Government should oversee services for the mentally ill

Regarding the Nov. 30 article, "A group home, a fire, a lot of questions": The tragedy of the recent group home fire in Missouri holds many lessons for a country set on a path to close nearly all large facilities for people with mental retardation and other disabilities.

Throngs of people with mental illness have called back alleys, bus stations, jails, and park benches "home" since being "liberated" (or diverted) from institutional care. The deinstitutionalization of people with mental retardation has led to well-documented abuse, neglect, and death in many states. Missouri is sadly added to that list.

Aggressive deinstitutionalization, inadequate funding, and negligible government oversight of community-based facilities is to blame for these tragedies. The proliferation of small group homes, which have had little or no oversight, has created an "out of sight, out of mind" scenario that continues to create tragic headlines.

As taxpayers, we must insist that services for our most vulnerable citizenry be adequately funded and have reliable government oversight. The benefactors of our good-will are the people with mental disabilities who are our relatives, friends, and neighbors. Until basic reforms are instituted, tragedies will predictably continue.
Mary McTernan
President, VOR (Voice of the Retarded)
Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Pledging allegiance to principles

Regarding the Dec. 7 article, "Is America pledging less?": The increasing absence of the Pledge of Allegiance from our schools, partly because it is not meaningful to grade schoolers, saddens me. I learned one meaning of the pledge while an American student in Europe in 1955.

Evidence of the horrible destruction of World War II was all around me in Germany. While visiting my German cousins, I asked them how could the Germans have supported such an evil man as Adolf Hitler? Their reply was clear. "We pledged allegiance to a man, and he misled and failed us. But you Americans have it right. You pledge allegiance to a flag that stands for enduring principles of liberty and justice for all. As long as you pledge allegiance to those principles and not to fallible humans, you will be all right."

Now when I recite the pledge to the flag, I feel proud to live in a country based on principles more enduring than a fallible leader. Grade school children can surely understand that.
Walter A. Schroeder
Columbia, Mo.

Fathers need support, too

I read your Dec. 4 editorial, "Single moms with no 'I do' in sight," with extreme skepticism because I myself am the offspring of a hardworking single mother. While I am sure that the statistics in your editorial are true and that poverty and crime rates are higher in families without two parents, I do not believe that you looked at the root of the issue.

The problems that sometimes attend single-parent households are not things that can be solved by encouraging marriage. As your editorial said, 4 out of 5 African- American single mothers want to be married. The real issues revolve around the reasons why these women are not married.

I have seen many families struggle because the father was in prison or had a drug addiction. Those things happen because of lack of upward mobility and lack of hope in an inner-city environment. Why not tackle the heart of the issue, instead of treating its symptoms?
Shelley Stash

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