Children's Voice Dec 2005

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State of the States

California

High school graduation rates have been rising slowly but steadily in California's public education system, but African American, Native American, and Latino students continue to lag behind their European and Asian American counterparts.

For the class of 2002, the largest disparity existed between American Indians, who had a 52.2% graduation rate, and Asians, with an 83.5% graduation rate, according to the report Who Graduates in California? from the Urban Institute Education Policy Center.

The 2002 graduation rate breakdown for other racial groups in California includes blacks, 56.6%; Hispanics, 60.3%; and whites, 77.8%. The graduation rate for all students was 71.3%, up from 64% in 1992. California's overall results have followed nationwide patterns in high school completion, the report notes.

Addressing the minority lag, the report says, "Fewer than two-thirds of all students graduate from high school in central city districts and in communities that suffer from high levels of racial and socioeconomic segregation."

The report also states, "All major racial-ethnic groups have shown improvements in the past few years. Since gains have generally been stronger for the lowest-performing students, the graduation gap has closed slightly since 1998 (the first year for which disaggregated rates can be calculated). Nevertheless, very large disparities still remain among students from different racial-ethnic groups."

The report is accessible on the Urban Institute's website.

Florida

Florida's statewide, multiagency child death review system has released an analysis of 35 child deaths in the state in 2003 due to abuse or neglect. Florida's Child Abuse Death Review Report also analyzed 161 child deaths over five years. All of the abuse and neglect cases had been reported at least once to the Florida Abuse Hotline, operated by the state's Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Of the deaths in 2003, 13 were due to abuse, and 22 due to neglect. The review team, established by Florida's Department of Health in 1999, issued a number of recommendations with its analysis, including recommending enhanced training about the signs of child abuse and neglect for law enforcement, DCF staff, members of the judiciary, and school personnel.

Nine of the 35 cases reviewed were related to drowning--seven children drowned in swimming pools, one in a canal, and one in a pond--prompting the team to recommend that DCF emphasize drowning risk factors in its training curriculum. The team also suggested continued public awareness and education about drowning prevention, specifically focusing on the risks to children under age 5. Over five years, drowning was the leading cause of neglect deaths in Florida, accounting for 37 child deaths.

The team also identified a significant risk of infant death due to unsafe sleeping environments in which the children were placed in unsafe positions or beds, or were co-sleeping with adults or children, causing the child to suffocate. Four of the 35 deaths in 2003 were due to infants sleeping with their parents. The team recommended that hospitals, pediatricians, and home visiting programs continue to educate parents and the community about safe sleeping and the dangers of co-sleeping.

Of the 161 child deaths due to abuse and neglect over five years, 52% were caused by neglect, and 48% by abuse. Fifty-eight percent of the children who died were male, 42% were female; 58% were white, 39% black, and 25% Hispanic.

Fathers or boyfriends were responsible for 44% of the deaths; mothers were responsible for 36%. Neglect was the primary cause of death in most cases in which the mother was the sole caregiver, but abuse was the cause of death in most cases where the father or male boyfriend was the primary caregiver. Fifty-four percent of the caregivers responsible for a child's death were under 30 years old.

The full text of the Florida Child Abuse Death Review is available online. (PDF File; requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.).

Georgia

The Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) is making improvements in its child welfare offices in Fulton and DeKalb Counties as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2002 by Children's Rights Inc., a New York-based advocacy group.

The suit claimed the two county DFCS offices were overburdened and failed to deliver basic services to children, alleging that high caseloads for caseworkers, poor monitoring of child safety, and a drastic shortage of foster homes were harming children.

DFCS agreed to make a number of systemwide management and infrastructure reforms, including reducing caseloads, increasing payments to foster parents, and reducing children's time in foster care. DCFS will have to improve outcomes for children in 31 areas of service and sustain this performance for at least 18 months before the U.S. District Court in Atlanta will consider ending its oversight.

The court has appointed independent child welfare experts to measure and report on Georgia's performance under the terms of the settlement. The state expects to spend at least $15 million to address the settlement's terms during the first year of court supervision, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

North Dakota

What barriers and difficulties do grandparents face while caring for grandchildren in North Dakota? The North Dakota State Data Center took this question to grandparents statewide through telephone and in-person interviews, and North Dakota KIDS COUNT reported the findings last summer.

According to 2000 Census data, 2,547 grandparent caregivers live in North Dakota, and approximately 1 in 33 children live in households headed by a relative other than a parent. Most of these children live with a grandparent, representing 2.4% of all children in the state.

The North Dakota State Data Center survey found that, in 2002, half of grandparent caregivers lived in rural areas, and two-thirds had an annual income of $35,000 or less. Three-fourths of grandparents received no monetary compensation to care for their grandchildren, and approximately 59% of grandparents reported their grandchildren received no monetary   assistance.

Overall, grandparents accepted their responsibility as caregivers without identifying serious difficulties. Their biggest concerns, however, centered on the emotional aspects of caregiving (25%), the financial burden (25%), and feeling tied down (25%).

At least three-fourths of grandparents indicated that school lunch programs (88%), extracurricular activities (82%), and special education (76%) were available to their grandchildren. For at least one-fourth of grandparents, mentoring programs (27%), tutoring (28%), and scholarships (30%) were not available.

The study offered a number of recommendations for future policy initiatives, including creating an online tracking and referral system for caregivers, establishing a caregivers website, and providing distance education programs, long-term health insurance, and tax breaks for caregivers.

The complete report is available online.


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