Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Illinois Debt Crisis Leaves Treatment Centers Strapped, More Kids in Prison, Childrensrights.org

Illinois is $6 billion in debt and the state’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has lost $250 million of its budget over the last 10 years. The mounting debt and cutbacks have resulted in significant collateral damage for children served by DCFS providers, according to an article in Reflejos:

The cuts have “forced the elimination of programs primarily aimed at preventing child abuse and many of the well-being programs that provide kids with opportunities like summer camp and musical enrichment, which we as legal parents like to provide just [as] any parent would like to provide,” [DCFS] spokesman Dave Clarkin said.

Lutherbrook, a private residential treatment center, cares for about 50 Illinois children aged 8-18 and has received just one funding increase over the past 12 years. Officials for the institution have conceded that the situation is a “struggle.”

MacArthur Pledges New $15 million to Juvenile Justice Reform, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

ATLANTA — The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced it will increase its juvenile justice reform funding by some $15 million, a major part of which will be used to establish the new Models for Change Resource Center Partnership.

“Right now there are no go-to places to get the kind of information, resources, toolkits, [and] access to colleagues who have ‘been there done that,’” for would-be juvenile justice reform advocates, said Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform for the MacArthur Foundation.

Garduque said the Partnership aims to be that place people call when they want to make the kind of policy changes the MacArthur Foundation says result in better outcomes for kids and communities: rehabilitation, treatment in home communities and competent legal defense, among other things.

Creating the Partnership is the latest round in nearly two decades of MacArthur research, funding and advocacy on juvenile delinquency treatment and prevention.

Let’s Change How Police Question Young Suspects, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

When I had been practicing in North Carolina’s juvenile courts for about a year, I represented a client charged in the same case as a 13-year-old special-education student named J.D.B. I remember sitting in a large courtroom and watching J.D.B.’s public defender skillfully cross-examine a police investigator.

Weeks earlier, J.D.B. had been pulled out of his social studies class and brought to a school conference room where this same investigator had questioned him for nearly 45 minutes about a string of neighborhood burglaries. Although the assistant principal, an administrative intern and a uniformed officer on detail to the school were also present, no one had contacted J.D.B.’s grandmother, who was his legal guardian, nor was J.D.B. given his Miranda warnings, told he could leave the room or allowed to make a phone call. The boy initially denied any wrongdoing, but after the assistant principal pressured him to “do the right thing” and the police investigator threatened to put him in juvenile detention, he quickly confessed.

N.Y. Film Festival Unites New Yorkers to be Better Fathers, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. — They sat in a room, father and son, with cash stacked to the ceiling, seemingly all the money in the world at their fingertips, yet they starved.

This is the story of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, told through the eyes of his son, Sebastian Marroquin in the documentary “Sins of My Father,” one of 10 films showcased at the Fatherhood Image Film Festival over the weekend throughout Harlem and the Bronx. The metaphor, a father and son flush with material wealth but emotionally starved, was one that spoke to the festival’s theme of driving home the importance of a father as something more than just being a breadwinner, but a source of emotional sustenance as well.

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Student’s Questioning Violated Fourth Amendment, Court Rules, Education Week

A school resource officer violated the rights of an 8-year-old student when he detained the youth and intimidated him into crying, all to coax a confession from another student who was the real suspect in the theft of a dollar bill, the state’s highest court has ruled.

The Delaware Supreme Court held that the student was “seized” under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that the officer lacked immunity for his actions. The 3-0 ruling by a panel of the court also reinstated state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment against the officer, the state, and the Cape Henlopen school district.

Single Iranian Women Over 30 Can Adopt Girls, Tehran Times

The director of children and adolescence office at the Welfare Organization has announced that a regulation is being introduced that would allow single women over 30 to adopt girls.

Hamidreza Alvand, in an interview with the Persian service of the Mehr news published on Friday, said that the conditions under which single women over 30 could adopt girls are: having no criminal records in following Islamic rules, having good financial status, being in sound physical and psychological conditions, practicing one of the religions stated in the Iranian constitution, not having any sort of addiction to drugs or alcohol, and being free of sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) and other sort of incurable diseases.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 4 million children and adolescents in this country suffer from a serious mental disorder that causes significant functional impairments at home, at school, or with peers.  Additionally, 21% of children between ages 9 and 17 have been diagnosed with a mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment.  Despite this high prevalence rate, NAMI reports that in any given year, only 20% of children with a mental disorder are identified and treated. That’s a lot of kids to not receive treatment, and the consequences can be tragic.  Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 24.  Of those children who commit suicide, over 90% have been diagnosed with a mental disorder.   Additionally, 50% of teens with a mental disorder will drop out of school.  Many of these youth will wind up in the criminal justice system.  The National Institute of Mental Health found that 65% of boys and 75% of girls in juvenile detention have at least one mental disorder.  And why are these children so undeserved?  Well one reason is that we continue to cut funding for mental health programs.  In the last three years, states have cut a combined $1.8 billion for mental health care from their budgets.  Additionally, in the last five years, we have eliminated 4,000 inpatient hospital beds.  Dr. Denise Dowd, who authored a paper on firearm-related injuries on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics, stated, “We have plenty of beds for kids with gunshot wounds, but a kid with a mental health problem, that’s another issue.  We don’t have beds for those kids.”  In addition, we have a woefully inadequate number of child and adolescent psychiatrists.  The federal government estimates that we will need 12,624 child and adolescent psychiatrists by the year 2020.  The projected number is just 8,312.  Currently, we have only 6,300 nationally.  Nebraska has only 30 child psychiatrists in the entire state, or one for every 11,000 children.

Wednesday’s Children and the Law Blog

The Truth About Mental Health and Violence, Indy Star

Rates of homicide and other violent deaths in the United States dramatically exceed those of any other industrialized, high-income nation. Diagnosable mental health conditions are not the cause of violence in the United States, but oftentimes the result of it. The trauma that results from violence may in fact be a significant precursor to the development of many mental and substance use conditions.

Persons with severe mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence — as they can be easy prey to violence. Some live a marginalized existence as a result of mental illness and subsequent loss of income and assets, and may become targets for theft, mugging and rape. Incarceration of large numbers of people with mental and substance-use conditions in county jails and correction facilities may subject them to isolation or, worse, violent victimization . . .

People with mental health conditions alone are no more likely to be violent than other people. A 2009 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that mental illness alone is not an adequate basis for a prediction of dangerousness, as “the incidence of violence was higher for people with severe mental illness, but only significantly so for those with co-occurring substance abuse and/or dependence. . . severe mental illness alone did not predict future violence; it was associated instead with historical (past violence, juvenile detention, physical abuse, parental arrest record), clinical (substance abuse, perceived threats), dispositional (age, sex, income), and contextual (recent divorce, unemployment, victimization) factors.”

. . . Included in ACA is the provision of mental health and substance abuse parity. If implemented properly, the ACA could provide the necessary services to those in need of behavioral health services in a way that is comparable to physical health services . . . this is important as substance abuse services are critical to those who have a co-occurring mental illness. Similarly, specialty services for children with trauma must be included. As the state begins implementation, we must insist on a robust package of behavioral health services for children and adults that includes a medication benefit that makes certain that everyone is able to obtain the medicine that is so critical to their recovery. Workforce development will be an issue that must be resolved as well, as the need for mental health and addiction professionals will greatly exceed their availability. Educational assistance for these professions might be indicated.

‘Phoenix’s Law’ would Double Penalties for Animal Cruelty, The Buffalo News

Phoenix, the 5 1/2-month-old Jack Russell terrier recovering from being intentionally set on fire Oct. 29 [by teens], hasn’t been forgotten.  Thursday, Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan . . . announced he will introduce “Phoenix’s Law” legislation, which would double maximum jail terms from two years to four, and fines from $5,000 to $10,000, for people convicted of aggravated cruelty to companion animals, a felony.

[New York] ranks 38th, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, with Illinois having the toughest [animal protection] laws and Kentucky the weakest. New York animal protection laws fall under the state’s Department of Agriculture & Markets, with the companion animal law on the books expressly excluding farm animals.

The proposed [NY] legislation also would require a juvenile convicted of animal abuse to have a psychiatric evaluation and treatment. “Animal cruelty is considered by many experts to be a leading indicator in the predisposition for future acts of violence. Often someone who abuses a vulnerable pet as a child grows up to abuse vulnerable adults and children. This law will help identify somebody with that predisposition, and assist in reducing the possibility of future acts of violence and abuse,” Ryan said.

Defense Rests in Case of Missing Florida Foster Child, The Seattle Times

The defense rested in the case of a South Floriday woman accused of killing her 4 year old foster child more than 10 years ago.  Lawyers for 67-year-old Geralyn Graham on Tuesday focused on attacking the credibility of three jailhouse informants who implicated Graham in the Rilya Wilson’s killing.

Also testifying for the defense were corrections officials who say star prosecution witness Robin Lunceford was given preferential treatment behind bars.  Lunceford also got a life prison sentence reduced to just 10 years in exchange for her testimony that Graham confessed.  Graham did not testify in her own defense but has insisted on her innocence. Rilya’s body has never been found.

Prosecutors now have the chance to put on a brief rebuttal case. Closing arguments are expected next Tuesday.