The Human Tragedy of Quick Fixes

Jacinta and her two children struggled. Jacinta had a job, but her earnings were insufficient for her family’s needs. While her children qualified for the free lunch program, they came to school hungry. The children struggled in school due in part because of a lack of food.

The state where Jacinta lived had a no-tolerance policy for child abuse. By definition, abuse was all encompassing. Those who became aware of a potential abuse were required by law to report it. This included teachers, daycare providers, healthcare workers, and anyone who interacted with children.

Since the passing of the law, reported cases of abuse tripled. Child Protective Services was overwhelmed as a result of the increase in cases and the loss of staff from the unbearable case load.

Jacinta was reported for child abuse because of her children’s hunger. Her inability to feed her children both breakfast and dinner was noted in a home visit. The case worker noted that this wasn’t an abuse case, but one of a mother living in poverty. The strictness of the law led to her children being removed. After losing her children, Jacinta spiraled downward and became a drug addict and lived on the street. Her children struggled in school and were held back.

During the time that Jacinta’s case was under review, three children in the community had died from abuse situations. Their cases had been submitted for examination, but the backlog was so great that these abuses were never reviewed.

What happened in this case is something that often happens when a correction is taken but ends up making the situation worse. This results when:

  • The corrective actions overwhelm the ability to manage them
  • The corrective actions are too broad and not targeted at the most serious situations
  • The corrective actions don’t deal with the fundamental causes of the problem
  • There is no triage systems for focusing on the most serious and timely situations.


Why do such unintended consequences happen? Often it’s because quick fixes are easier to understand than more serious analysis. Thus these quick fixes are supported by those who want to be seen to have an answer (often to get elected). We never seem to care about those whose lives are impacted by ill-conceived actions.

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“With reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” – Margaret Wheatley (Writer, Management Consultant)

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