Family Values?

— Ravi Malhotra, response from Stephanie Coontz

ALTHOUGH STEPHANIE COONTZ'S article "'Family Values'—For Real?" (ATC 41) thoughtfully addresses many important issues surrounding family issues which those on the left must face, as a disability rights activist I am deeply disturbed by her comment that "[poverty, decay of the urban infrastructure and 'deinstitutionalization' of the mentally ill have deprived children of safe places to play or go to school." (9)

While the impact of the first two causes is obvious, I find it distressing that Coontz makes such a sweeping statement with respect to those with mental disabilities. Of course, a certain percentage of people with mental disabilities may pose some sort of threat to children or society at large. I hardly think, however, that is sufficient reason to dismiss the entire deinstitutionalization process as her comment implies.

Many people who are currently institutionalized could greatly benefit from being in less oppressive and restrictive settings. It is the lack of support services for people who have been released from institutions, in a time of government cutbacks, that is the real problem.

Ironically, in an article that attempts to stress the responsibility of a neo-conservative government for social ills, Coontz inadvertently blames people with mental disabilities for the violence in American society by criticizing deinstitutionalization, a process which, when adequately funded, all leftists should support.

Reponse:

I COMPLETELY AGREE that, given adequately funded and well-run support services, many people with mental disabilities would do better in community settings than in institutions. At the same time, for other cases, we shouldn't fall into the laissez-faire trap of opposing all institutions just because our current ones are so repressively run.

Without blaming people with mental disabilities for the American social crisis, the fact remains that in many poor urban centers, the concentration of large numbers of the neglected mentally ill, often the majority of the homeless, adds to the stress of an existence where even parks and playgrounds offer no special place for children.

March-April 1993, ATC 43

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