Sunday, 20 July 2003

Good cause ... bad name

There will be a meeting Wednesday of Amber’s Army, a group founded after the June 25 death of Amber Cox-Cody, who was left for eight hours in a day-care van in the Memphis summer. This was the fourth such death in Memphis since 1996.

Now I don’t want to sound callous. There’s a real problem here. But “Amber’s Army”? I can’t think of any less appropriate use of the military metaphor. At least with the “War on Drugs”, there are men with guns out there kicking down doors, so it’s at least it’s something like a war. I’m envisioning armed men in fatigues outside day care centers, inspecting vans to make sure there aren’t any kids left inside.

I don’t have any good ideas for solving the problem of incompetent day care workers letting kids die in hot vehicles in the summer. And don’t know anything about the particulars of any of the cases, of why the kid was going to day care instead of being cared for, at home, by a family member. But the liberal in me suspects that welfare reform is partly to blame. I wonder whether it just might be a little more cost effective to take the money the state is spending on providing day care for poor children, and just pay one parent to stay at home and take care of the kids.

The amateur economist in me recognizes that the incentives need to be done right. For example, it should be the same payment, no matter how many kids you have in your care. And it shouldn’t matter whether it’s the mother or the father who stays home to care for the kids. And maybe you should only get paid to stay home and take care of the first two children. After that, you’re on your own.

I’m not a child welfare expert, but seems to me that pre-school children are almost always better off at home. And any system that provides perverse incentives to take them out of the home is broken.

Now back to sounding callous again. That logo of the crying teddy bear makes me want to retch. And if the Commercial Appeal is going to advertise the URL, they should make sure it works.

Saturday, 23 August 2003

More on "Amber's Army"

Last month, I made some snarky remarks about Amber’s Army, an activist group started by the Commercial Appeal after the tragic death of Amber Cox-Cody, who was left in a day care van in the blazing heat of the Memphis summer.

Veronica Coleman-Davis, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennnessee, has written an excellent editorial on Amber’s Army. Coleman-Davis questions whether it is appropriate for the media to be engaged in this kind of activist organization. She writes, "Calling for community action under the heading of Amber’s Army is a risky entrance into the realm of shaping, not reporting, the news."

In other news, the day care workers whose negligence resulted in Amber Cox-Cody’s death, have been charged with first-degree murder. This surprised a lot of people in the community, including me, who thought that first-degree murder required premeditation. But according to Tennessee State Code 39-15-202 (2), first-degree murder includes any “the killing of another committed in the perpetration of … any first-degree murder, act of terrorism, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, kidnapping, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect or aircraft piracy.” (Note the interesting recursion in the definition. The recursion bottoms out in paragraph (1), which gives the usual “premeditated or intentional” definition.)

When you look at the definitions of “child abuse” and “aggravated child abuse” in 39-13-401 and 39-13-402, however, it seems that almost any action that results in the death of a minor may well fall under the classification of first-degree murder. Shouldn’t we be drawing some distinctions?