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.


Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Sex-Trafficking Sting Shows Foster Children are Especially Vulnerable, ChildrensRights.org

The FBI announced on Monday that a nationwide sex-trafficking sting rescued 105 sexually exploited teenagers, according to a Los Angeles Times report. The three-day sting covering 76 cities focused on underage victims of prostitution and resulted in 150 suspected pimps being apprehended. In San Francisco alone, officers rescued 12 juveniles and arrested 17 pimps.

The raids, executed by nearly 4,000 total officers, highlighted the vulnerability of foster children to child sex traffickers:

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the information clearinghouse that tracks missing child reports in the United States, 60% of runaways who are victims of sex trafficking had been in the custody of social services or in foster care.The center assisted the FBI in the raids as part of the Innocence Lost Initiative, which has rescued more than 2,700 sexually exploited children over the past decade. According to the center’s officials, foster children are especially at-risk of being targeted by sex-traffickers.

Parental Alienation, The National Law Review

Parental alienation is a type of abuse by one parent who “programs” the child or children of the marriage to denigrate or “target” the other parent in an effort to undermine and interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent.  This syndrome is often a sign of the offending parent’s inability to separate from the couple’s conflict and focus on the child’s needs.  Rather, the offending parent uses the children in his or her war against the other parent.

Parental alienation deprives children of their right to be loved and to show love to both of their parents.  The alienating parent (and often other family members) mentally manipulate or bully children into believing a loving parent is the cause of all of the their or the family’s problems; therefore the other parent must be the enemy, be feared, hated, disrespected and avoided.  Hatred is not a normal emotion for children, rather it must be taught.

Lawmakers Call to Arm Prison Rape Victims with Legal Aid, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Julie Biehl, director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University, panned one glaring contributor to Illinois’ soaring rates of sexual abuse in youth prisons: the lack of advocacy on the part of incarcerated children.

“Although the public is not aware of this,” she said, “Illinois does not provide attorneys for incarcerated youth.”

Without legal representation, young people “have no one to turn to whom they trust” in matters ranging from unwanted advances from prison staff to guidance in parole hearings that have the potential to determine the course of their lives, Biehl said at a hearing by the state’s Restorative Justice Committee this week at the James R. Thompson Center downtown.

“Imagine for a moment you’re a teenager,” Biehl continued. “You’re incarcerated. You may be learning disabled; you may be traumatized; you probably don’t read at your grade level. Your release, your re-incarceration and your discharge from parole is at the discretion of the correctional officers. Maybe… you’ve been raped. There is no one to advocate exclusively for your rights, safeguarding your welfare and telling your story.”

Missouri Legislators Threaten to Override Veto of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Bill, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Legislators in Missouri say they may make a move later this fall to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s recent veto of a bill that would have removed juveniles from public sex offender registries.

In an interview with The Missourian, Republican state Rep. Dave Hinson said the bill had strong support in the state legislature, which swept through the House earlier this year with unanimous approval before passing out of the Senate after a 28-4 vote.

However, the bill was subsequently vetoed by Nixon, who said the legislation would not protect victims’ rights or uphold public safety.

[Youth Report] In Atlanta, An Exploration of the New Family Normal, bokeh.jjie.org

I visited Atlanta for the first time in April 2013. Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I felt simultaneously at home in the diversity of the city and far away in the humid, hustling winds of the south. Everything about Atlanta spoke of a long, deep-rooted history of families, success, poverty, change, fusion, evolution and culture.

Dani Planer is a young photographer based in the heart of the South’s biggest, bravest city. In 2010, at the age of 14, Dani created (with co-producer Devin Black) a poignant and quietly provocative series of photos studying urban decay in Atlanta. The series, ‘Abandoned Atlanta,’featured on Bokeh and later at the Joseph R. Bankoff Gallery at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, brought us inside the architectural graveyards of bygone buildings, eras and policies.

Now, Dani turns their work from place to people, examining different Atlanta families and their relationships. Like the population of the city they live in, the families are ethnically and structurally complex, diverse in their backgrounds and make up. Yet each photograph relays a common familial bond that extends beyond the confines of race and culture.

Juvenile Injustice: $350 to Defend A Child, LATimes.com

Three hundred fifty dollars. That’s the amount Los Angeles County pays a private attorney to represent a child charged with crimes when the public defender has a conflict of interest and can’t handle the case. That $350 has to cover all legal work, even when the child is charged with a serious crime such as murder or rape. About 11,000 kids a year end up being represented by such appointed counsel.

Here’s how it commonly works. Let’s say two 15-year-olds are caught with a six-pack of beer and charged with illegal possession of alcohol. Because they may have incentives to testify against each other, the rules of legal ethics require that different law firms represent them. So, typically, one would be represented by the public defender while the other’s case would be contracted out to an attorney earning a total fee of $350.

This compensation system has created profound inequalities in the legal services provided to children.

Legal Aid for Youths an Issue for Colo. Lawmakers, The Denver Post

DENVER—At least half of the indigent juvenile offenders in Colorado don’t get legal representation, experts told state lawmakers who began studying the issue Tuesday for possible legislation next year.

State and national experts told the lawmakers that an estimated 50 to 75 percent of juveniles have their cases resolved, sometimes agreeing to pleas, before ever having legal counsel. Lawmakers this year created the legislative committee to study the issue.

“If your child’s liberty is at stake, they should have access to counsel,” said Patricia Puritz, the executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center, which released a report in January on the legal representation Colorado provides juvenile offenders. Puritz told lawmakers that lack of representation is a problem nationwide that has not gotten enough attention.

“It’s the result of really benign neglect, more than willful obstruction,” she said. Her group’s report was conducted over 18 months, collecting data from 12 counties across 11 judicial districts. She said the rate of indigent juveniles who lack representation could be as high as 75 percent, while the executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition put the figure at closer to 50 percent.