(Editor's note: This article originally appeared on December 22, 2006.)
It’s a time of year when many Americans are moved to help others, particularly families and children in need.
That charitable impulse is well-placed: In an address at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan noted that 66 percent of all circuit court cases in 2005 were family division filings. Michigan courts had about 1 million open child support cases.
These startling facts convince some that government must provide the solution to strengthening families, but people forget that government is often the instigator of many of the problems.
America’s welfare program has a history of encouraging dependency on government, while discouraging work and self-sufficiency. Also, welfare payments can provide incentives for out-of-wedlock births and the break up of families because the money makes such situations less difficult. This mindset of dependency on government aid often can be passed to children, miring families in poverty for generations.
Although Congress in 1996 passed significant welfare reforms, the system remains seriously flawed. Even the most benevolent bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., cannot possibly know what is best for the struggling family in Michigan.
But there is another way. Rather than apathetically doling out money, private charities have a vested stake in ensuring that recipients of their aid make significant life changes so that they can stay out of court and improve their station in life. In fact, many private organizations in Michigan deal directly with the problems Justice Corrigan cited in her speech. Some of those organizations, such as The Malachi Global Foundation in Midland and Christian Conciliation Service in Troy, are faith-based. Others, such as the United Way-affiliated Family and Children Services, are secular.
The Malachi Global Foundation, founded in 2003 by Brian D. Molitor, operates under the mission statement of "turning hearts and changing lives" to strengthen the bonds between parents and their children. The Malachi plan for children includes lifelong mentoring and a rite of passage — a formal ceremony that marks the child’s passage into adulthood and establishes new expectations for his or her behavior.
Molitor believes that this is an important step because without it, teenagers may seek other forms of confirmations of adulthood, often through rebellion. Malachi Global offers weekend retreats and training courses to teach fathers how to implement the plan, and the foundation will offer a program designed for women and their daughters. Although the organization believes in using a preventative approach, it also offers a 60-hour curriculum to help troubled youth. Molitor believes Michiganians must "act decisively to turn the tide," according to the Malachi Web site, and he is confident that once communities devote their attention to rebuilding the family, "The statistics will tell a very different story."
Christian Conciliation Service of Southeastern Michigan "reconciles relationships broken or damaged" by disputes, according to its Web site. CCS provides dispute resolution services to families, couples, neighborhoods, businesses and others in an effort to preserve relationships and help parties avoid an already overburdened court system. The organization also trains people in conflict management.
The process of dispute resolution "requir(es) each party to accept his or her responsibility for the problem and for the solution." First, CCS gives a person counsel to resolve the problem privately; next, peacemakers (lawyers, pastors, mental health workers and other experts) serve as mediators to help the parties arrive at a voluntary agreement; and finally, if the aforementioned fails, the dispute goes to arbitration, where the peacemakers make a legally binding decision for the parties.
Family and Children Services, which provides aid to families across the country, has nine Michigan offices that together serve all 83 of the state’s counties and traces its roots in Michigan to 1891. FCS is a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian agency that deals with everything from adoption services to family life and employee-assistance programs. Its mission states, "Family & Children Services shall promote, support, enhance and strengthen the development of family life, and the well being and mental health of families, children and individuals."
The problems of Michigan’s families are draining taxpayer-funded court resources and producing poverty. Government intervention often worsens these problems and fosters dependency.
As French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville predicted more than a century and a half ago, "The more government takes the place of associations, the more will individuals lose the idea of forming associations and need the government to come to their help."
Christina M. Sandefur (née Kohn) is a staff attorney at the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. She received her law degree from Michigan State University and a B.A. in history and political economy from Hillsdale College. She was a summer 2006 intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.