Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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.”

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