Children's Voice Jan/Feb 2006

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National News Roundup

Arizona

Child advocates in Arizona are pushing a plan to keep foster children in the same school, even if they move to a different family. If they must change schools, advocates want to ensure it happens only once for the child, according to the Arizona Republic.

Prompting advocates to take action are recent studies that show 75% of children in foster care are working below grade level, and 83% will be held back a year. About 60% of the 10,000 children in Arizona's care are school age, and the more often they change schools, the further they fall behind, advocates contend.

Dennis Ichikawa, Director of Casey Family Program's Phoenix office, has assembled a group of child welfare officials, educators, judges, and attorneys to consider how to improve the school experiences of children in foster care. Additionally, last year, 60 juvenile court judges attended training on how their decisions regarding children in foster care, including where and with whom they live, affect their education. The judges received a list of questions to ask to better assess children's education situations.

The advocate group also plans to train volunteers as education advocates for children in foster care and track their school progress, the Arizona Republic reports.

Maine

Governor John Baldacci (D) has decided to stop accepting federal funds for an abstinence-based sex-education program, in part because federal guidelines do not allow any of the money to be used to teach so-called safe sex practices, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Maine is the third state, following California and Pennsylvania, to turn down the federal money amid a national debate about whether the government should promote abstinence-only programs or give youth birth control information. Maine accepted federal abstinence funds between 1998 and 2004, but state officials did not apply for $165,000 in funds in the 2005 fiscal year and will not seek $161,000 in funding for FY 2006.

Maine has used federal money in the past to fund public service announcements discouraging youth from having sex prematurely and encouraging better communication between parents and their children. New, tighter federal guidelines, however, would prevent the state from providing "comprehensive information" to simultaneously encourage abstinence and help sexually active young people, state Public Health Director Dora Anne Mills told the Press Herald.

Mills also said the state's teen pregnancy and abortion rates have dropped substantially and, therefore, the funds are not needed. She pointed out that the federal government's guidelines stating that sex should be limited to marriage complicates educating gay and lesbian youth.
"This money is more harmful than it is good," Mills told the paper. "You can't talk about comprehensive reproductive information."

Minnesota

Large numbers of young Hmong girls are being raped or forced into prostitution by Hmong gang members who go unpunished because their victims are too ashamed to step forward, according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.

The paper conducted an analysis using FBI data revealing that between 1999 and 2005, some 76 Hmong men and 21 Hmong teens were charged with sexually assaulting or prostituting girls in Ramsey County, home to about 60% of the state's Hmong population. More than half of the men were charged with crimes against victims younger than 13; 81 of the 97 were charged with attacks against victims 15 and younger.

"It's a huge problem," St. Paul Police Sgt. Richard Straka acknowledged in the Star Tribune.

The community has begun to take action: St. Paul public schools are training staff to spot Hmong girls who might be in trouble, the Hmong Youth Task Force meets monthly to brainstorm solutions, and St. Paul police and Ramsey County sheriff's deputies are actively looking for Hmong runaway girls, departing from their previous runaway policy.

According to the Star Tribune, the number of young rape victims at one St. Paul clinic started to disturb Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Laurel Edinburgh, who began collecting information. In her preliminary analysis, she found Hmong girls treated at her clinic were about six times more likely than other victims to have been raped by five or more people.

New Jersey

New Jersey's youth jails have stopped illegally housing dozens of mentally ill and neglected children and are developing a more sophisticated tracking system to make monitoring youth in detention easier, according to New Jersey's Star-Ledger.

In June 2003, state officials agreed to a series of reforms to settle a lawsuit filed by Children's Rights Inc. One promised change was removing all children in need of mental health or child welfare placement from detention. According to the Star-Ledger, a court-appointed panel monitoring New Jersey's compliance with the settlement set a June 30, 2005, deadline for this to occur, but on that date, 29 children were still being held in detention. State officials promised to end the warehousing by September 30. In early October, the Star-Ledger reported that just one child remained illegally detained.

Kathi Way, who oversees children's services for New Jersey's Department of Human Services, said the state moved the youth into a variety of settings, including institutional treatment facilities and foster homes. "This is one of the most important accomplishments for us," Way told the Star-Ledger. "We feel so much better knowing children are not...waiting in detention."

Ohio

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled unanimously last October that the grandparents of an 8-year-old girl must be allowed to visit her over the objections of her father, upholding the constitutionality of a state law granting nonparents visitation rights to children, according to the New York Times.

The decision comes at a time when parents nationwide are challenging the constitutionality of such laws. Courts in Florida and Washington State, for example, have struck down similar laws, while courts in other states have upheld them.

The Ohio ruling is the result of a legal battle over Brittany Collier, who lived with her mother and grandparents for the first two years of her life after she was born in 1997. In 1999, Collier's mother died of cancer, and her grandparents, Gary and Carol Harrold, won temporary legal custody of Brittany.

In 2002, custody was awarded to the girl's father, Brian Collier, who removed her from the Harrolds' home. The Harrolds initiated a battle for visitation rights. According to Ohio law, in cases where parents of an unmarried minor dies, the courts are permitted to grant grandparents and other relatives of the deceased parent visitation rights if they are "in the best interest" of the child. Collier argued the law was too broad and infringed on his rights.

The state Supreme Court's decision took into account that Brittany had lived in the Harrolds' home for her first five years. "The facts of this case clearly warrant granting grandparent visitation" to the Harrolds, Justice Alice Robie Resnick wrote in the court's decision.

Washington

The Seattle Times reports that four Washington community colleges will offer bachelor's degrees as part of a pilot program approved by the state legislature. The four-year degree programs will launch in fall 2007.

As in most states, Washington's community colleges currently offer only two-year degrees. The four-year degrees would be aimed at students who want to advance their careers in specialized areas, such as hospitality or health care rather than those seeking general education in liberal arts or science.

The state will choose community colleges to participate in the program this spring. To be selected, colleges will have to show that a demand exists among students and employers and that similar courses aren't offered elsewhere. Washington joins about a dozen other states where students can earn bachelor's degrees outside traditional university settings.

"There has been controversy," Norma Kent, spokesperson for the American Association of Community Colleges, told the Times. "Of course, the four-year institutions are a little bit wary about what it means. And some in the community college system think it might erode its mission."

The pilot program will start with 80 full-time-equivalent students in 2007, expanding to 160 in 2008. A study by the state's community college board indicates there is demand for 3,000 slots. The board hopes to convince lawmakers to allow it broader degree-granting authority.


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