Family Crisis

Introduction to a Practical Guide to Understanding Family Crises

Most people would agree that there family life in the U.S. has changed. Most would also agree that things seem to be getting worse for many families in our society. However, anyone who has spent a little time looking for landmark studies in social science that might provide conceptual clarity and precision comes to realize that such treasures are not as plentiful as they might wish. One finds instead, conceptual overlap across theoretical schools of thought, confusing argumentation and conflicting viewpoints in what should be a methodically derived body of scholarly knowledge.

It is the purpose of this course to attempt to shed the light of understanding on this quandary by framing questions for answers across disciplines, providing actual data on which to base solutions, and by organizing existing arguments, theoretical perspectives, and proposed solutions into a single theoretical perspective. Our purpose then is to provide a useful guide for students who are interested in the social scientific investigation of social, cultural, and interpersonal crises as these affect the family.

After studying the material contained here, a thoughtful student should feel better about his or her own understanding of the social environment in which we rear children and nourish families. We aim to study that which is the case - in other words, the truth (or as near to the truth as we can come).

We will avoid moral arguments as much as possible, looking away from the more hysterical elements that surround many social issues. Instead we will attempt to discover the facts of each case. For example, whether or not we agree on the morality of abortion law, contraceptive use, or governmental support of the poor, we can (and must) agree on who gets abortions and how many are performed, the effects of contraceptive use, and the cost and nature of government support of the poor.

Students of family development will have the opportunity to ground themselves in the existing theories that involve family life, family interaction, functions of the family in modern society, and so on - especially as these relate to interpersonal family life and the normal and abnormal crises that exist.. Each of the five major theories in social science, along with several middle range theories will be discussed, along with some research methodology and the findings of studies dealing with family crises - divorce, violence, joblessness, drug abuse, poverty, single parenting, illness, and aging.

We will attempt to gauge the impact of social ills on family relationships, along with the underlying reasons for continued and chronic family dismemberment. Read the Section II below to get a glimpse of the complexity of "what goes wrong" in families and to show you how I teach.

Using Logic and Awareness of the Facts

Let's suppose a family, living just on the Texas side of the Rio Grande border, are stunned to find their only child exhibiting terrific signs of sickness - burning eyes, frequent bloody noses, listlessness, nausea, and hair loss. After visiting the doctor, they find their child has a disease with a long Latin name that is difficult to cure and will most certainly cause permanent damage to the child.

Is this something they could have done something about before now?
Is it an accident, or an act of God? What caused all this? Using a logical device known as a two by two table (which might not help a family now, but could have helped prevent preventable events), we can begin an investigation into what has happened to this sick child.

Whatever is wrong, it certainly isn't normal, which leads us to the bottom half of the table. Inside the Family means some virus or bacteria is present in the house (easily checked), or there is a history of this kind of illness in the family (also easily checked). Knowing that neither of these is a possibility, we should look Outside the Family. The hospital could supply information about the number of cases of these symptoms occurring in the area.

One might also ask if any new factories have moved into the area west of town. In fact, as a result of international trade agreements, many American corporations enjoy cheaper labor costs and a lack of anti-pollution laws in Mexico, and have moved their factory sites just on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande border.

While increasing corporate profits, one by-product of this Economic change is that increased waste water dumping and prevailing westerly winds blow pollution across the border and into the bodies of children living a few miles to the east in Texas. Proving all this might be difficult, and there is a tendency to simply believe the theory that the illness is the parent's fault, or that it is God's will. However, the complexity of the situation is no reason to hide from the facts. And a good theory points out the places where the facts might be hiding.

In this class, we never want to get too far from the environment in which families succeed or fail.
It is a temptation to only look inside the family for processing difficulties. To do so would be to miss half the picture . . . or more.  As an example, read below:

    By: Nancy Nusser 1996 Cox News Service MEXICO CITY
    -- Despite promises that the North American Free Trade Agreement would clean up the polluted border between Mexico and the United States, pollution and related diseases are undiminished and even rising, according to a study by a major U.S. consumer group. In an 84 page study released this week, Ralph Nader's consumer group, said environmental language in NAFTA was never strong enough to force border clean-up or tighten environmental laws. Mexico's economic crisis, which began with the December 1994 currency devaluation, gutted budgets for environmental projects, the report said. As a result, two years after NAFTA went into effect, border pollution is as bad as ever and related illnesses, including hepatitis and birth defects, may be increasing, the report said.

    "If you want to judge the success of NAFTA you look for improvement in public health and environment on the border, ''said Chris McGinn, deputy director of Global Trade Watch, the department of the Washington based Public Citizen that conducted the two-year study. "It's not happening.'' Pollution on the 2,000-mile divide from California to Texas comes from 2,000 maquiladoras, mainly U.S.-owned factories that moved to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental laws. During the NAFTA debate in 1993, U.S. environmentalists protested that the accord, which breaks down trade barriers between the United States, Mexico and Canada, would bring more industrialization and pollution to the border. To overcome opposition from environmentalists, Clinton officials promised at least $6 billion and as much as $8 billion would be spent to clean up the divide over 10 years. NAFTA also was supposed to discourage maquiladoras from moving to the already over-burdened border by encouraging industrial development in the interior of Mexico, Clinton officials said.

    The accord also was to bring stronger environmental regulation from the Mexican government. Gabriel Cuadri, president of Mexico's National Ecology Institute, a government agency, said, "NAFTA has given an extraordinary drive to environmental protection in Mexico. The proof is in new institutions, new promises, new projects. But Public Citizen's McGinn counters: "If you look at the (NAFTA) promises, they're laughable, they're so far from reality." Though Clinton officials said NAFTA would slow the move of maquiladoras to the border, the industry has grown 20 percent since the accord passed, the report said. In addition, the report said diseases contracted from dirty drinking water haven't diminished since NAFTA passed.

    Hepatitis rates on the border are still two to five times the U.S. national average, and waterborne diseases in some areas, including Maverick County in Texas, have increased, the report said. Waste water treatment plants, which were supposed to clean up water on Mexico's side of the border, have not been constructed yet, the report said. The Mexican cities of Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo on the Texas border and Nogales on the Arizona divide don't have adequate waste water treatment, so tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage are dumped daily into natural waterways, the report said. In Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, the waste water treatment plant is large enough to treat less than half the Mexican city's waste, the report said.

    The report said the border's unusually high rates of neural tube birth defects haven't diminished and may have increased since NAFTA passed. Last year anencephaly, a condition in which children are born with partial brains, cropped up in the Texas border town of  Eagle Pass, across from Mexico's Piedras Negras, the report said. Neural tube deformities, anencephaly and spina bifida, in which the spinal column is exposed, have never been definitively connected to industrial pollutants. But high rates in U.S. cities across from intensely industrialized Mexican towns led researchers to suggest the defects may be tied to toxins generated by maquiladoras. McGinn said that before Mexico's economy tumbled, the country wasn't pumping much money into border clean-up. Once the peso crashed, the NAFTA funding scheme wasn't secure enough to guarantee even meager spending.

    The Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC), set up by NAFTA to improve compliance with environmental regulation, is too weak to do so, the report said. Under NAFTA, citizens from member countries can ask the Commission, which includes representatives from Canada, Mexico and the United States, to intervene in the case of severe environmental problems. The Commission is then supposed to be able to pressure governments for action. But the process is so complicated and the Commission's power so limited that using it effectively is nearly impossible, McGinn said. In two years, the Commission has mediated only one complaint -- the death of 20,000 to 40,000 birds in Mexico's intensely polluted Silva Reservoir, the report said. "NAFTA was supposed to do basically three things, finance clean-up, enforce environmental laws and reduce the maquiladora industry,'' McGinn said. "None of that has happened.''

    But other environmentalists, while critical of the slow pace of clean-up, say delays are owed to an economic crisis that has nothing to do with NAFTA. "I believe there's been improvement in cooperation (since NAFTA),'' said Pete Emerson, a senior economist for the Environmental Defense Fund, among many environmental groups that supported NAFTA. "What's immensely disappointing is that one side of the partnership hasn't come up with the financing, but that's not a result of the agreement it's a result of the financial crisis.''

    Now, as a member of the "helping professions", it is the easy way to try to treat the outward symptoms of a parent coping with a child's illness. Certainly that is important.  However, when significant stresses come from the results of predatory political policy, economic determinism to the exclusion of public health, and real physical pollution that is poisoning the bodies of children and adults, at least one should acknowledge the source of the problem and spend some portion of our resources on correcting the course of our actions.