Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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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.

 

 

 

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.