JUNE 30, 1945
HYDE PARK, Friday—I have often been bothered by the question of what factors make for so-called "bad" children. I am bothered by it when I go to the Wiltwyck School, where they have eight to twelve-year olds who seem so innocent. It certainly bothered me as I looked at the boys at the Warwick State Training School the other day, and it used to bother me when I visited the Girls Training School at Hudson, New York. I have often wondered, too, why in these state institutions for young boys and girls there are more colored youngsters involved than white ones.
I have come to the conclusion that we need to do some thinking on this subject, if only because it costs us money to support training schools for young people. It costs us money to support prisons. It costs us money to support tuberculosis sanitariums. It costs us money to support hospitals for the handicapped, and for the mentally deficient.
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The relationship between low family income and a bad child is not, of course, a necessary relationship. I have a friend here in the village of Hyde Park who brought up a number of children on a widow's pension. They are fine children, and I am sure they had no sense of being less privileged than other children in the village.
But the colored group, in New York and in other cities and rural areas, is often a low-income group. Sometimes a low income means some deficiencies in the parents involved. There may have been two generations without the proper food, and that will develop physical and mental trouble, particularly where medical care is also not available. As a result of a bad physical condition, education is very much handicapped, since an undernourished child is frequently a poor student, with bad eyes and bad teeth thrown in. The very low income group is apt to be poorly housed. The neighborhood is apt to be bad and the children exposed to many temptations.
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Children frequently steal because they are hungry. They lie because the punishment meted out to them is frequently so hard that they dare not face it. They run away from home because home is unbearable. They run away from institutions because forcibly-curtailed liberty is in itself a great hardship, and the place you are in must be exceptionally good to make you want to stay there.
I don't think I would ask of any institution that they have no runaways, for it is the natural instinct of any normal human being to try to get away from the place where he is forced to stay. But I would ask how many youngsters came back voluntarily, before they were caught. If the percentage was high, I would know that the people in charge of that institution were accomplishing something remarkably good, since the youngster himself had decided that what he was leaving behind held advantages which drew him back.
I have been writing about the New York State institutions I know best. But I believe the problem is national in its scope and important enough to be seriously considered by people everywhere.