Poisoned Children in Flint, Michigan

Jake May | AP Photo

Beyoncé, celebrity singer, recently announced her financial support towards the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, bringing more attention to the the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The poisonous water issue came to light in fall of 2015, when researchers concluded the tap water residents were drinking was causing elevated lead levels in children’s blood. Since 2013, Flint had changed their water source. Instead of getting the city’s drinking water from Lake Huron, the city treated water from the Flint river. The lead originated from the corrosive treated water as it leached from the pipes and soldering.

State and federal government failed to address the water crisis in time. The Flint population is concerned that the test results of unfiltered tap water remain high. Although residents have received filters to remove that level of lead, officials maintain that children under 6 and pregnant women should only use and drink bottled water.

About 8,000 children under 6 may have been exposed to the poisoned water, which may have caused irreparable damage to their developing brains and nervous systems. The research indicating a link between lead levels and learning disabilities, violent behavior, attention problem and motor coordination is alarming. Young children under 6 are particularly vulnerable since they are still developing.

Many residents and advocates have expressed their anger towards the government, while also bringing up the racial prejudice and the difficult economic background of Flint residents. Would this have happened if the city was primarly composed of middle class white americans? Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said it would cost $1.5 billion to repair the city’s water infrastructure, and too expensive to switch back to Lake Huron water. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder finally declared a state of emergency and summoned the National Guard to distribute clean water.

Legal routes include an investigation to determine whether the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality violated the Safe Drinking Water Act by not treating the Flint Water with an anti-corrosive agent. Additionally, the ACLU intend to sue state and city officials for “fail[ing| to cure their noncompliance with the (Safe Drinking Water Act) within 60 days.” There could even be criminal allegations towards lawmakes for negligence and indifference.

With the state emergency money and some charitable funds, Dr. Hanna-Attisha hopes they can seize this opportunity to create a new public health program with psychiatrists, nutritionists and child development experts. She was at the forefront of documenting the blood lead levels in children and is getting together resources to assist with these children’s learning and medical problems.

Our government will have to provide the adequate care and services to help the children in Flint, but also work to prevent this life altering crisis from happening again.

Houston School Board Refuses To Ban Suspensions

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Despite the fact that school boards across the country have banned school suspensions, Texas has yet to join the growing trend. Five Houston ISD school board members voted to keep school suspensions as a last resort for teachers who are “deal(ing) with kids who they can’t contain” in pre-kindergarten through second grade classrooms. The rejected plan also included provisions for a team of specialists and $2 million in classroom management training for HISD teachers.

In lieu of the ban, HISD decided to retain school suspensions of second grade and under students as a “last resort.” Of 2,673 reported disciplinary incidents during the 2014-2015 school year, 87 percent involved youth considered to be economically disadvantaged or at risk, and 84 percent were male. 70 percent of the youth disciplined with suspension were African-American even though black youths comprise only 25 percent of the HISD student body.

The school board’s initial proposal was laudable. It proposed the suspension ban as a positive approach to deescalating conflict in classrooms. It called for more accountability and more disciplinary data in an effort to develop school-specific annual plans to reduce misbehavior and rectify inequities. Encouragingly, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier called for a more empathetic approach to discipline, saying, “We understand better now than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children. We must take a hard look at how we are handling these issues to ensure we’re not contributing to an already stressful situation for these students.” Furthermore, schools with lower suspension rates have been found to have higher achievement rates and narrowed achievement gaps, while schools with higher suspension rates see the opposite effect.

The school board’s decision was not without dissent. Other board members and teachers voiced opposition to suspension. HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones called suspension an “ineffective” deterrent. Voicing concern for students at-risk for the school-to-prison pipeline, she said, “They go home. There’s nothing at home for them. They come back and it’s even worse. I cannot vote for continuing to perpetuate the pipeline to prison, not just for African-American children, but for any child.”

A similar article appeared earlier this week on Houston Public Media.

ABA Resolution Seeks to Prevent Foster Kids Becoming Homeless

The ABA House of Delegates met last Monday, February 10, 2014, at the Midyear Meeting in Chicago, Illinois to debate and vote on a wide range of public policy issues.

One Resolution on the table, which was submitted by the Commission on Youth at Risk, “urges governments to enact and implement legislation and policies which prohibit youth from transitioning from foster care to a status of homelessness, or where a former foster youth will lack a permanent connection to a supportive adult.” This Resolution, Resolution 109A, was adopted.

The Resolution says governments and courts should provide support for housing assistance for children who turn 18 while in foster care and that dependency cases should not be dismissed until a Court finds that the child has (1) housing, (2) a permanent connection with at least one supportive adult, and for youths with disabilities, (3) a transition to adult systems that provide health care and other support.

The Resolution cited a report that followed over 700 children who had been in the foster care system in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. 36% of the former foster care children reported at least one instance of homelessness by the age of 26. The Resolution explained that “further action is needed to help former foster youth find safe and secure housing and avoid homelessness,” suggesting that Courts “simply forbid a child leaving foster care from becoming immediately homeless.”

In support of the second requirement (that the Court find the child has a permanent connection with at least one supportive adult), the Resolution explains that, “youth need stable and caring relationships with committed adults in order to transition smoothly into adulthood and avoid negative outcomes like poverty and unemployment.” In 2009, 80% of eighteen-year-olds who aged out of foster care through emancipation had no permanent family to turn to.

As it relates to the disabled youth in foster care, the Resolution argues that states “pay special attention to the transition needs of youth with disabilities because youth with disabilities are over-represented in the child welfare system and are at greater risk for poorer outcomes than their non-disabled system-involved peers.” Special transition planning requirements must be put in place because the successful transition of youth with disabilities requires accessing benefits, services, and supports in adult systems that operate by rules and eligibility criteria very different than the child serving systems.  Many of these services and supports have long waiting lists, are not entitlements, and require careful and early planning to ensure that the youth can access them upon discharge.  In addition, because many of these youth cannot rely on a parent or caregiver to help them navigate this complicated transition, clear requirements and procedures for transition planning for these youth is essential to their health and well-being.

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