Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Metro Atlanta Backslides on Protecting Kids in Foster Care, childrensrights.org

As Georgia experiences major changes in its child welfare leadership, new data shows that metropolitan Atlanta’s effort to protect abused and neglected children in foster care has suffered. According to the latest report from federal court monitors, the performance of the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) “declined on a number of issues related to the safety of children in the State’s care.”

The report revealed an increase in the rate of children who were subject to maltreatment in foster care; this came after two monitoring periods in which the state came extremely close to holding such incidents to the required level. The monitors also noted several other safety concerns:

* The state failed to meet requirements for timely initiation and completion of maltreatment investigations for children in foster care;

* Nearly a quarter of Fulton and DeKalb’s Child Protective Services (CPS) investigators carried excessive caseloads, sometimes more than double that permitted by court order;

* CPS investigators failed in some cases to undertake complete histories when investigating foster homes. While the state had previously been in compliance with this measure 91 percent of the time, that figure fell to 76 percent;

* Several foster homes were found to be caring for children in DFCS custody despite having confirmed histories of maltreatment.

The monitors also revealed declines in other areas. The state posted its worst performance to date in keeping siblings in the same foster home, doing so only 66 percent of the time–a severe drop from the 81 percent placed together during the previous monitoring period. Also, the monitors found that the educational achievement of youth leaving foster care has worsened, with only 40 percent at age 18 or older attaining a high school diploma or GED,compared to 49 percent and 58 percent achievement the last two times the monitors reported on this issue.

Rescued Children Shouldn’t be in Handcuffs, cnn.com

According to the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, as a minor who has been forced to perform a sexual act for money she is a victim of sex trafficking. Yet under prostitution statutes in most states she has also committed a criminal offense – and now she is in handcuffs. About three-quarters of  the children rescued last week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation through Operation Cross Country VII live in states that afford them no legal protections from prostitution charges.

Some could face up to two years in juvenile detention, others, thousands of dollars in fines. Many may also be charged for possessing the cocktail of drugs that traffickers use to create dependency and compliance in the children they sell. And though the FBI is likely to afford special leniency to those rescued in the sting, without change, the same may not hold true for the children arrested on the streets in the coming months and years.

Nor has it in the past. In 2007, a Texas District Attorney prosecuted a 13-year-old girl for prostitution while her 32-year-old “boyfriend” went free. She was one of 1,500 sexually exploited children arrested nationwide that year.

Treating a child as an offender breeds mistrust in a legal system that ought to protect him or her, and traffickers and pimps exploit this, threatening their victims with arrest and criminal records if they try to seek help.

‘Safe harbor’ laws remove the conflicts between federal and state law by exempting children from prosecution for prostitution, while ensuring strict punishment for people who sell children.

They also require that law enforcement agencies undergo training on how to identify and assist victims, and prompt agencies to participate in the creation of statewide multidisciplinary systems of care.

Since 2008, ‘safe harbor’ laws have been passed in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington, with a Texas Supreme Court ruling offering the same security.

Poor Children Show a Decline in Obesity Rate, nytimes.com

The obesity rate among preschool-age children from poor families fell in 19 states and United States territories between 2008 and 2011, federal health officials said Tuesday — the first time a major government report has shown a consistent pattern of decline for low-income children after decades of rising rates.

Children from poor families have had some of the nation’s highest rates of obesity. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese. Among low-income children, it is one in seven. The rate is much higher for blacks (one in five) and for Hispanics (one in six).

The cause of the decline remains a mystery, but researchers offered theories, like an increase in breast-feeding, a drop in calories from sugary drinks, and changes in the food offered in federal nutrition programs for women and children. In interviews, parents suggested that they have become more educated in recent years, and so are more aware of their families’ eating habits and of the health problems that can come with being overweight.

The new report, based on the country’s largest set of health data for children, used weight and height measurements from 12 million children ages 2 to 4 who participate in federally funded nutrition programs, to provide the most detailed picture of obesity among low-income Americans.

 

 

 

Conference: Legislative Advocacy & the Origins of Murderers

trendsinJJreport

After lunch, the 12th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference continued with Kim Dvorchak giving an uplifting update on juvenile law legislative changes around the country, focusing on the ability of juvenile defenders to advocate for change in their home states.

Both David Domenici and Kim Dvorchak recommended the National Conference of State Legislatures: Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislature 2001-2011 as a resource for the juvenile defenders attending.

Currently Professor David Dow of the University of Houston Law Center is describing the life of a real death row inmate to illustrate how murderers become murderers essentially by their life circumstances as children, which are quite often shockingly abusive.  The room is silent, hanging on Professor Dow’s story.  Everyone would love to stop murder before it happens by changing the circumstances of our most vulnerable and abused children.

The 12th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference began on a strong note with David Domenici speaking about the success he has had with the Maya Angelou Academy that serves D.C.’s incarcerated youth.  The most interesting fact to me was how significant the correlation between education and incarceration is.  Male high school dropouts are 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than college graduates!

We are now hearing from Diane Vines of the Child Trauma Academy and the Children’s Assessment Center in Houston about brain science.  The brains of bused and neglected youth do not develop well and attachment does not form correctly.  As most parents realize, teens brains are not like adults.  Teens make poor decisions, especially those whose brain development was stunted by their abuse and neglect.

The almost 100 attorneys packed into this University of Houston Law Center classroom are enthralled.  Can’t wait for the legislative update from Kim Dvorchak of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition coming soon!