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.

 

 

 

Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Lawmakers Advance Plan to Study Use of Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Jails, The Republic

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas lawmakers have advanced a plan to study the use of solitary confinement in county juvenile jails.

In a 31-0 vote, the Texas Senate approved the measure as part of a broad juvenile justice bill.

State records show juvenile jails placed teenagers in solitary confinement more than 35,000 times last year. Some counties classified “horseplay” among “major violations” leading to confinements of 24 hours. Under current law, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department collects little information about the confinements.

Age-Appropriate Placements Matter in the Transition to Adulthood, Juvenile Law Center

All children deserve to grow up in a safe place with people who care for and love them, and who guide and support them as they grow. Having that safe, stable, and nurturing place to live provides a foundation to learn, dream, and set and meet goals for the future.

Federal and state laws establish policies for foster care, which is meant to be temporary. Goals are to return children to their parents, or place them with family members, or find a home for foster youth with individuals who are committed to making a family with them. While states have made progress in reducing the number of youth in foster care, many youth—especially older youth—remain in the system. Sometimes they stay in care for many years. Far too many of these youth are not placed, as the law requires, in the least restrictive, most family-like setting; they are instead placed in group homes and institutions.

Study: Minority Students Less Likely to Be Identified With Autism, Education Week

he rates of autism for students of all races is on the increase, but students who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian are less likely to be identified with the disability compared to white and Asian students, according to a study published this month in The Journal of Special Education.

The study, “A Multiyear National Profile of Racial Disparity in Autism Identification,” compiled information collected by the federal government from 1998 to 2006 on the race and disability category of students in special education. Using that information, the researchers were able to calculate a “risk index,” or the percentage of all enrolled students from a racial group with a specific disability.

Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Children’s Act to Transform Services for At-Risk Kids: Bill 25 Touches All Aspects of Government Services for Alberta Youth, Edmonton Journal

Human Services Minister Dave Hancock introduced the Children First Act on Tuesday, a new law that will touch every program or service the Alberta government provides to children and families at risk.  Bill 25 initiates a review of all policies, programs and services that affect children and requires the government to establish a “children’s charter” to guide future decision making . . .

The proposed new law also changes several related pieces of legislation.  The Protection Against Family Violence Act will be reopened and the government will establish a Family Violence Death Review Committee. Hancock said 121 Albertans have died in family violence incidents over the past 10 years, and the committee will look to learn from such deaths to avoid similar incidents in the future.

The government will also redefine offences under three separate laws, including the Drug Endangered Children Act, the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act and the Child Youth and Family Act.

For example, the province will take the word “wilfully” out of these laws, so adults who put children at risk will be held accountable even if they didn’t intend to do so.  “If you’re cooking up meth in your kitchen, you’re endangering your children,” Hancock said . . .

Finally, the province will change the nature of the legal relationship between front-line workers and the children they serve . . . The changes also give kinship and foster parents more authority over the children in their care, he said . . .

NDP critic Rachel Notley expressed “grave concerns” about changing the legal relationship between workers and young people . . .  Liberal critic David Swann said “what is disappointing is that this follows so closely on a budget that is cutting services to children.  “Actions speak louder than words. This is more talk, more philosophizing,” Swann said . . .

Ariel Castro Charged With Kidnapping And Rape In Ohio Missing Girls Case, The Huffington Post

Authorities in Ohio filed charges Wednesday against one of the men arrested in connection to the disappearance of three women held for a decade in a dilapidated home in Cleveland.

Ariel Castro, 52, faces four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, Cleveland’s chief assistant prosecutor said today at a press conference.  Castro’s brothers — Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 — were not charged, though they had been taken into custody Monday after the women were found . . .

Police believe that Amanda Berry, 27, Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, about 23, were held against their will in Castro’s house since their teens or early 20s. The kidnapped women and a six-year-old girl were rescued Monday after Berry kicked through a locked screen door and called 911 on a neighbor’s phone.  It was the first time the woman tried to escape, according to an official speaking at the press conference.

National Attention Rarely Highlights Missing Minority Children, CBS Atlanta

The discovery of three missing Ohio women held hostage for almost 10 years has brought national attention to those who are abducted and go missing daily. [Note: Gina DeJesus of that tragedy is Hispanic]

What does not become national news as often are the numbers of minority children and adults who go missing. The blame for this is the phenomenon called the “missing white girl syndrome” and many blame local and national media for its lack of coverage.

According to the Chicago Citizen, “missing white girl syndrome” refers to “the disproportionate degree of coverage in television, radio, newspaper and magazine reporting on an adversity, most often missing person case, involving young, white, upper-middle class frequently blonde woman or girl.”

The contrast is played against missing boys or men, minorities and people of different classes.

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center’s Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2012, a total of 265,683 minorities were reported missing in the U.S., out of 661,593 children.

According to the NCIC, 42 percent of those minority child abductions are African Americans.  Since their inception in 1975, the NCIC has not given specific statistical data for missing Hispanic persons. According to the FBI’s Investigative and Operational Assistance Unit, “the race breakdown was decided at that time [1975] based on visual looks rather than blood lines.”

Studies have been published since the early 1970s about missing minority children represented in the media. According to the 2010 study Missing Children in National News Coverage: Racial and Gender Representations of Missing Children Cases, “although a relatively large number of African American children are actually missing, they are significantly underrepresented in television news.”

Derrica Wilson, the president and co-founder of the Maryland-based nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation, Inc.and a veteran law enforcement official says, “The nature of missing person cases is not just a black or white issue, it’s an American issue.”