Many people unknowingly hold double standards about rearing children based on a parent’s economic status.

If a single parent has no or a low income, people consider it more valuable for that person to work outside the home than to be a “stay at home” parent. But if a parent with adequate means provides care as a “stay at home” parent, it’s often considered laudable.

What will it take for all of us to value a loving parent’s care for his or her child over a stranger, a tired grandparent or another provider? Why are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients admonished so harshly?

When I was a social work graduate student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work in 1969 and 1970, the concept of “worthy poor” was considered naive and insulting. Who determines “worthiness”?

Our economics professor believed social workers had soft hearts and soft heads: His goal was to “harden” our heads with economics. “How much welfare can the USA afford?” was the first theme paper assignment. The professor’s answer — as much as the public wants.

Unfortunately, the voting public often support corporate welfare and high defense-industry spending rather than assistance to unemployed and disabled parents — unless, perhaps, a recently widowed white mother of four was left without funds to raise her children, i.e. a “worthy poor” parent.

Double standards continue to pervade our public discourse. If a parent and the partner parent can live comfortably on one income, it has been considered positive to have a “stay at home” parent raising the children.

If a parent is single and doesn’t have a financially contributing parent partner, public pressure has been for the custodial parent to get a paying job and rely on others for child care.

Welfare workers used to recommend mothers find a new husband who has an income, or go to work and pay for child care, if necessary. We now have supportive services for some child care, training, job coaching and higher education, but the systems are not always workable.

People are limited to receiving five years of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Then, when the five-year limit is up, what does a single, unsupported parent do?

A conflict arises: Is it better to receive TANF money and provide child care to one’s own children or to go to work outside the household, often for minimum wages, and rely on others to provide child care? Professional and family day care are not easily or reliably accessible.

Healthy and reliable child care isn’t easy to find for everyone, let alone a low-income single parent. Marry to get off welfare? Can you imagine the realistic choices?

Go to work for minimum wage and lose Medicaid? Go into debt to buy a car? Live in fear that your children will be poorly cared for in your absence? Find an employer who hires illiterate workers or emotionally, psychologically or socially impaired workers?

Many clients I worked with in mental health and substance abuse practices resolved this issue by obtaining legal counsel and applying for Supplementary Security Income, a program for children and adults with disabilities, including social phobias, depression and anxiety.

I would ask recipients about their disability, rather than their diagnosis, and often would get the answer, “I don’t like doing what a boss tells me to do,” or “I get panic attacks when I’m with strangers or a group of people.” Something’s wrong here.

I believe the futures of Maine and the nation depend on a healthy infrastructure of well-cared-for, well-educated and vocationally trained, emotionally secure and hopeful children. Our current dismay at opioid and alcohol addiction and overdoses is closely related to our neglect and abuse of children.

Let’s support helping kids at the root of their current and future problems, and not condemn their parents or the kids themselves.

Jane Fairchild is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked for 40 years in family treatment clinics, substance use rehab residences, methadone and suboxone clinics and psychiatric outpatient clinics in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine. She’s on the board of directors for the Eastern Area Agency on Aging.