10 Missing Children Cases Potentially Linked to Greek Mystery Girl

http://news.yahoo.com/mystery-girl-greek-roma-camp-abandoned-mother-lawyers-181620606.html

From Elinda Labropoulou and Laura Smith-Spark at CNN:

About 10 cases of missing children are “being taken very seriously” in connection with the suspected abduction of a girl by a Roma couple in Greece, a spokesman for a Greek children’s charity said Tuesday.

“They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France,” said Panagiotis Pardalis of the Smile of the Child charity.

In a case that has generated huge interest in Greece, authorities have charged the Roma couple with abducting the child they call “Maria.” They appeared in court Monday and were remanded into custody pending a trial.

A lawyer for the couple says the pair adopted the child from her biological mother.

The Smile of the Child said the girl, who was found Thursday in a Roma community near Larissa, central Greece, is now being cared for in a group home.

Medical tests carried out on the girl since she was found indicate she is between 5 and 6 years old, slightly older than initially thought, said Pardalis.Police have said they are suspicious of the records the couple provided for the child and for other children in their care. In addition to the abduction charge, the couple is accused of falsifying official documents.

Four officials, including the head of the registry office from which Maria got her birth certificate, have been suspended while a police investigation is under way, the media office of the Athens municipality said Tuesday.

The girl received the document this year, it said. It is unusual for a birth certificate to be issued years later.

1,000 years of Roma discrimination

Authorities asked questions about Maria because she has fair skin and blond hair, while her parents have darker complexions typical of Roma, a race descended from Indian nomads who face widespread discrimination in Europe.

Haralambos Dimitriou, head of the local Roma community, said the couple took the girl in because her Bulgarian mother couldn’t keep her. He said Maria was raised like a “normal” child.

Pardalis said Sunday that she was found in “bad living conditions, poor hygiene.”

Calls about the girl

Thousands of calls poured into Greece after authorities released photos of the girl last week.

Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin, whose daughter Lisa Irwin vanished from their home in Kansas City, Missouri, two years ago aged about 11 months, asked the FBI to get in touch with Greek authorities when they heard about the case.

“There is no such thing as a tip too small,” said Bradley, whose hopes were raised despite the apparent disparity in age between their missing daughter and the girl found in Greece.

Authorities released photos of the two adults charged in the case Monday — Eleftheria Dimopoulou, age 40, and 39-year-old Christos Salis — in the hope that the publicity would reach someone who can provide more information about them.

Police said the blond child looked nothing like the man and woman with her, and DNA testing confirmed that they were not her biological parents.

A police statement said the couple “changed repeatedly their story about how they got the child.”

A government news agency said police found suspicious birth and baptism records as well as family registrations that claimed the woman had given birth to 10 children and the man was the father of four more.

Prejudice against the Roma

Prejudice and discrimination against the Roma are widespread in Greece and elsewhere in Europe, Amnesty International says.

Maria’s case plays into old prejudices about them stealing children for forced labor.

Pardalis mentioned such a possibility, saying, “We don’t have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets.”

And the government news agency raised “the possibility of the existence of a ring bringing pregnant women to Greece from Bulgaria and then taking their children for sale.” The agency also cited past “reports” that empty coffins were found for infants who supposedly were stillborn to foreign mothers in Athens.

While there is a risk that old prejudices are at work here leading to these suspicions, DNA tests can prove who her parents are as well as the other 10 missing children. This story has given more light to the grave issue of human trafficking. Not only is human trafficking prevalent in the rest of the world, it is sadly all too common in the United States, with Houston, Texas as a hub for trafficked victims.

Texas Foster Care System Facing Reform

From Patricia Kilday Hart at the Houston Chronicle:

In a 107-page opinion citing deficiencies in the Texas foster care system, a Corpus Christi federal judge this week paved the way forward for a classaction challenge to the state’s system of caring for abused and neglected children.

Judge Janis Jack, of the U.S. Southern District, certified a class of children in state care whose attorneys hope to prove have been harmed by the state’s policies and practices for managing children who have been taken into custody from abusive or neglectful families.

It is the second time Jack has made such a ruling in the case. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing a U.S. Supreme Court case tightening rules for class-action lawsuits, vacated a similar ruling in 2011. On Tuesday, Jack said the plaintiffs met the new standards for classaction lawsuits, and the lawsuit can proceed.

“This decision has life-changing significance for the vulnerable children in Texas foster care, and for the law,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The judge has laid out what is necessary to proceed on behalf of all children. … She has found that the evidence presented concerning problems in Texas foster care is sufficient for us to proceed as a class action.”

Spokesmen for Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the attorney general’s office had no comment on the ruling.

The lawsuit on behalf of some 12,000 children in permanent foster care in Texas claims the state has violated their constitutional rights by not providing adequate oversight, specifically because it fails to employ sufficient caseworkers to ensure their safety and well-being.

In a written statement, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said they will prove that “the state fails to monitor children’s safety, putting them in understaffed group homes and unlicensed homes of relatives who are not given the same training or support as foster parents or inappropriately placing them in congregate care when they could be properly served in a more familylike setting. … These deficiencies lead to damaging consequences, including high rates of maltreatment, frequent and repeated moves between placements, and unnecessary separation of children from their siblings and communities.”

In her ruling, Jack wrote, “There is ample evidence that caseworkers are overburdened, that this might pose risks to the children in the PMC, and that … state officials had actual or constructive knowledge of these risks and have not acted to cap or otherwise limit caseloads.”

The judge also cited the turnover rate for Department of Family and Protective Services employees, which she said had “ranged from 23.6% in fiscal year 2009, to a staggering 34.1% in fiscal year 2007. In fiscal year 2012, the latest data presented to the Court, DFPS caseworkers had a turnover rate of just over 24%.”

Jack said the turnover guarantees poor results for foster children, citing the case of one girl who has had 12 different caseworkers assigned to her.

Further, she said, she found a link between caseworkers’ workloads and the safety of children in foster case. “Caseworkers are, in effect, these children’s fire alarms. They are the first and best mechanism to ensure the class members’ safety, i.e., to ensure that the child is not suffering any harm or abuses. A case worker that is so overburdened that she cannot visit the children she is responsible for to keep apprised of their well-being, or if she cannot build enough of a rapport to do so effectively, cannot fulfill this function.”

Her ruling cites stories of children who have spent years bouncing between multiple foster homes, including an 11-year-old boy from Houston who was taken from his drug-addicted mother in 2007 and lived in four foster homes, including one in which he suffered sexual abuse. He also spent time in psychiatric hospitals before his adoption in late 2012.

In another, a San Antonio boy taken from his mother in 2009 has endured multiple placements, including hospitals and emergency shelters where he was overmedicated. He now is in a residential treatment facility some 300 miles away from San Antonio, according to the lawsuit.

This is a groundbreaking opinion. It is a giant first step in protecting the foster care children of Texas for Judge Jack to certify the plaintiffs as a class. Tennessee was able to completely reform their system after a settlement was reached in a similar case and hopefully Texas will be able to do the same. ChildrensRights.org is a nationwide non-profit that is pushing for reformation of the foster care system in several states. Learn more about ChildrensRights.org and what they are doing to help. Read the opinion here.

Photo courtesy of ChildrensRights.org.

Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Photograph courtesy of http://www.hngn.com/articles/10029/20130814/dyslexia-study-brains-scans-predict-pre-school-children.htm.

Dyslexia Researchers Launch Multicultural-Outreach Effort, Education Week

Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, the co-directors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, based at Yale University, and longtime researchers of the reading disorder, have started a campaign to bring greater awareness of dyslexia to communities of color.

The Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative had its first meeting earlier this month, honoring well-known people with dyslexia, such as actor and activist Harry Belafonte and author Victor Villaseñor. The initiative plans to hold more meetings across the country in coming months, Sally Shaywitz said in a conversation with Education Week. Too many children, she said, learn that they have dyslexia almost by accident, after years of struggling with school.

Dyslexia Study: Brain Scans Can Predict Dyslexia in Pre-School Children, Headlines & Global News

A new study suggests that MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging may be used for early detection of a disorder that affects the developmental reading skills of a person making it difficult to read and interpret letter ands symbols or most commonly known as “dyslexia” among pre-school children.

Elizabeth Norton, PhD, lead author of the study from the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research and her colleagues said that the results of this research could lead to rapid identification and solution for the roughly 10 percent of U.S. kids known to have developmental dyslexia.

The study participants consists of 40 pre-reading and early-reading kids with ages between four and six who had been identified to have smaller left arcuate fasciculus and who scored lower on phonological assessments. The left arcuate fasciculus attaches brain areas activated in speech and language processes.

Norton and her team also invited kids from a wider study of reading development in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to join in the brain study. The 52 eligible kids can speak American English natively and completed 36 weeks age of gestation before birth. They also had no sensory difficulties but make use of glasses. They haven’t taken nervous system medications, had no neurological or other developmental diagnoses and have standard IQ scores. Twelve scans were discarded thus decreasing the samples to 40.

New Mexico boy set to go to court in dad’s killing, US News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The 10-year-old New Mexico boy lived in an abusive, filthy home and had tried desperately to get help to stop the beatings he and his younger siblings had for years faced at the hands of their abusive father, his attorney says.

Then, one day in 2009, prosecutors say, he put a gun to the head of his 250-pound father and killed him at their Belen, N.M., home.

After years of stops and starts, the boy is scheduled to face a jury this month for first-degree murder in a rare prosecution expected to highlight the debate over whether children that young are capable of the pre-meditation required for such a serious charge. Experts say the boy, now 14 and living in Oklahoma, is just one of a handful of very young children in the nation’s history to face such a conviction.

“I’ve been practicing law for 20 years and this is the saddest case I’ve ever seen,” said the boy’s attorney, William J. Cooley. “I don’t know why this is even going to court.”