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.

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Clayton juvenile program becomes model for state reform, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Quantavius Poole was a school brawler, a drug dealer, and he was facing five years in juvenile detention.

Now, at 17, he is a sous chef for a caterer. He hopes to enlist in the National Guard so he can pay his way through a military college. He wants to enter the Air Force.

The program that may have saved Poole, called Second Chance, is a blueprint for legislation to overhaul Georgia’s juvenile justice system. It’s credited with steeply reducing juvenile offenses in Clayton County, and its supporters believe a statewide program could save Georgia hundreds of thousands of dollars per offender.

Virginia pastor sentenced for aiding parental kidnapping, The New York Times

A Virginia pastor who said that his actions “flow out of my faith in Jesus,” was sentenced Monday to 27 months in prison for abetting the international parental kidnapping of a girl in a high-profile case involving a same-sex union and the condemnation of homosexuality by conservative Christians.

Population at youth corrections facility drops, The Denver Post

State officials say a focus on rehabilitation has led to a 44 percent decrease in the number of juveniles committed to the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections over the past seven years.

John Gomez, director of youth corrections, tells The Denver Post Colorado will remove 189 beds from seven state-run and community based facilities during the next year. He says his office has successfully combined programs designed to help adolescents before they enter the justice system and has tried to stop released juveniles from returning.

Early-intervention programs have helped expand services to children and teens before they enter the justice system, reducing the number of juvenile arrests in Colorado.

With fewer detained juveniles, the Department of Human Services has asked lawmakers to move nearly $8 million from youth corrections to child welfare services.

Cornell law professors and students work for juvenile justice, The Cornell Daily Sun

On behalf of 37 juveniles in South Carolina who have been sentenced to life in prison without parole, Cornell law students and professors are working to abolish sentences that may constitute “cruel and unusual punishment,” according to Prof. John Blume, law.

In August, Blume and Keir Weyble, an adjunct professor of law, founded the Cornell Juvenile Justice Clinic, a clinic that assists juvenile defendants facing life sentences, because, according to them, juvenile sentences of life without parole should be deemed unconstitutional.

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miller v. Alabama, which upheld the ruling that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional, juvenile offenders in South Carolina still serve life without parole sentences, according to Blume.