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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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.

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

photo courtesy of: http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2013/08/05/mother-scolding_wide-7314ce6a77cadbdefdfac61ac7a2afe5510dc6c0-s6-c30.jpg

Mothers are Tougher on Kids During Recession, www.newsfeed.time.com

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy is broaching how a down economy can impact family life. New York University sociologist Dohoon Lee contends that an uptick in strict maternal behavior stems more from anticipation of hard times rather than actual exposure. In fact, mothers treated their children harsher for each 10% increase in the unemployment rate in the city where they resided.

Lee examined data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which tracked more than 4,800 children born in 20 U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000 as well as unemployment rates and consumer sentiment index to measure the health of the economy. The mothers, mostly single parents, were interviewed periodically throughout the child’s life over a span of nine years. Harsh behavior was  determined by a scale of 10 psychological and physical measures, including spanking, swearing and yelling, and participants were asked to identify how often they engaged in this type of behavior ranging from “never” to “more than 20 times.”

DNA samples were also take from the mothers and children during the ninth year, adding a genetic nuance to the study. As Pacific Standard explains, women with a sensitive gene variation of the DRD2 Taq1A genotype, which is connected to the release of dopamine, were most inclined to engage in maternal misbehavior during the recession.

The study also looked at the effects of changes to individual family income but found no statistical significance resulting in an increase in harsh behavior. Moreover, the study underpins how fear of future adversity can lead to more negative behavior, according to Princeton University sociology professor Sara McLanahan, who co-authored the study. “People can adjust to difficult circumstances once they know what to expect, whereas fear or uncertainty about the future is more difficult to deal with.”

Nurse Suspected of Killing Up to 46 Kids to Get Out of Prison, www.abcnews.com

A nurse convicted in 1984 of killing an infant and suspected of murdering dozens more will be released from prison without completing her 99 year sentence because of an expired Texas law that grants a “mandatory release” to inmates with good behavior.

On May 14, 1984 Genene Anne Jones, now 63, was sentenced for the murder of 15-month-old Chelsea McClellan in 1982 in a small-town pediatric clinic where Jones was a nurse.

Jones began injecting the child with a lethal dose of the muscle relaxant succinylcholine while the baby was still in her mother’s arms, according to McClellan and court records.

Jones was also convicted of injuring a child in another attack in which the child survived. She was sentenced to 60 years on that conviction, but it was ordered to be served concurrently with the 99 year sentence.

Ron Sutton, the criminal prosecutor who won the murder conviction, estimates that Jones is responsible for the deaths of between 11 and 46 infants in Bexar County from 1978 and 1982.

Jones is scheduled to be released from prison on Feb. 24, 2018, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She will have served 35 years, about one-third of her sentence.

Jones will be released because of a Texas law called Mandatory Supervision. Enacted in 1977, the law allowed all convicted criminals to be automatically released on parole after they complete a certain amount of calendar time and good conduct time, which includes participating in work and self-improvement programs, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole and mandatory release guide.

Mandatory Supervision was amended in 1987 to exclude violent criminals. But any violent criminal convicted in Texas before 1987 is still eligible for early release, according to the guide.

“We need to find another case, another victim, whose death we can charge her with sufficient evidence,” Andy Kahan said.

Adoption Numbers Rising for Kids in Foster Care, www.usatoday.com

The percentage of kids adopted from foster care is swinging upward, a new report suggests.  Last year, 13.1% of children in foster care were adopted, an increase from 12.6% in 2011, according to statistics released today by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. The report highlights data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

Of the 1.8 million adopted children in the USA, 37% came from foster care, according to the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents. Private domestic adoptions accounted for 38%, and international adoptions were at 25%. These numbers don’t include step-parent adoptions.

“The data suggests states are striking a balance between improving the quality of child welfare services and moving children to permanent families,” the agency’s Bryan Samuels says in a statement. “Our role will be to continue to help states find that right balance with limited resources moving forward.”

Adoption is not the goal for all children in foster care, the agency says. Many kids are reunited with their parents or other relatives.

The number of foster-care kids waiting to be adopted dropped from 106,345 on Sept. 30, 2011, to 101,719 on Sept. 30, 2012. Also, the number of foster-care kids waiting to be adopted whose parents’ rights were terminated fell from 62,759 in 2011 to 58,587 in 2012.