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.

 

 

 

Same-Sex Marriage: Implications for Children and Families

The debate about same-sex marriage is ripe in media and politics today.  Since 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as exclusive to heterosexuals, several states have passed laws or constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman.  Only six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont) and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex couples to enter into civil marriages.  Two states, Maryland and Washington, are on track to follow suit and allow same-sex marriage, that is, unless voters overturn the law in the upcoming election.  In February of 2012, the California Supreme Court deemed the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, however, an appeal is pending. For a state-by-state history of the legalization of same-sex marriage see Infographic: A Turning Point for Gay Marriage sponsored by The Pew Research Center.

One argument frequently contended by opponents of same-sex marriage is that it is harmful to children who are derived from such a union.  However, a thorough investigation of the academic research reveals that this line of reasoning is not so clear-cut.   In a recent publication of the Journal of Marriage and Family, the leading research journal in the field of family systems, Timothy Biblarz, PhD and Judith Stacey, PhD highlight the results from their meta-analysis of scientific studies conducted between 1990 and 2010 that investigate the differences in parenting and child outcomes between same-sex and different-sex couples.  In the article, they reflect that:

Although researchers who examine the impact of parental sex orientation on children reported few significant differences in child outcomes between children raised by heterosexual and lesbian couples (e.g., Tasker, 2005; Telingator & Patterson, 2008), the overwhelming public consensus is that children raised by both a mother and father develop more successfully.

Due to the minimal number of studies in existence that examine male, same-sex couples, findings from Biblarz and Stacey’s study are primarily applicable to female, same-sex couples.  Overall, there are far more similarities than differences among children raised by same-sex couples compared to children raised by different-sex couples.  In regards to the few significant differences, the majority of those discrepancies are in favor of children reared by same-sex couples.  For example, children parented by same-sex, female couples, as compared with children parented by different-sex couples:

  • Have greater security of attachment and fewer behavior problems
  • Are more likely to discuss emotional issues
  • View their parents as more available and dependable
  • Exhibit less aggressive behavior
  • Are more tolerant of gender nonconformity and display less gender chauvinism than their peers

Biblarz and Stacey conclude that, the research to date, does not support the conclusion that children raised by both a mother and a father develop more successfully than children reared by same-sex couples.  “Research has not identified any gender-exclusive parenting abilities (with the partial exception of lactation).”  The consensus of scientific studies on parenting appears to support the conclusion that “two committed, compatible parents” in a “low-conflict relationship” generally facilitate the most successful child outcomes.

In light of this research, the Defense of Marriage Act and the efforts of legislators in the forty-one states that currently ban same-sex marriage, may in fact be demeaning the family as a social institution rather than protecting it.  This is because, researchers have documented the significant positive effects for both couples and children that result from being a part of a marital union.  In their book, The Case for Marriage, Linda Waite, PhD and Maggie Gallagher, PhD highlight these positive outcomes.  In regards to children:

Whether or not parents get and stay married can have long-term consequences for their children, and even their children’s children.  On average, children of married parents are physically and mentally healthier, better educated, and later in life, enjoy more career success than children in other family settings.  Children with married parents are also more likely to escape some of the more common disasters of late-twentieth-century childhood and adolescence.

Waite and Gallagher’s conclusion that children from married families have better outcomes than children from single-parent families has also been extended to children living in cohabiting families.  Susan Brown, PhD and numerous other social science researchers, have discovered that children have worse outcomes when they grow up in cohabiting families as compared to married families.  These findings are important to the debate about same-sex marriage because states that prohibit these marriages are depriving children reared in these unions of the substantial benefits derived from growing up in a family supported by the marital bond.  Judith Seltzer, PhD succinctly summarizes the significant impact of familial relationships in her journal article, Families Formed Outside of Marriage.

Families matter for individuals.  What happens in our families affects how we live our lives, whether we are rich or poor, the languages we speak, the work we do, how healthy we are, and how we feel…A common understanding about the obligations and rights of family members contributes to the institutionalization of family relationships.  General consensus in public opinion about who should be counted as a family member and consistent laws also institutionalize relationships.

 

To protect the family as an institution, we need continuity in how we define the family so that we can better promote strong and healthy familial relationship.  Legislators need to consider the fact that by banning same-sex marriage, they are further fragmenting family relationships and denying to the children of these unions the benefits of being raised in a marital relationship.