Children's Voice Mar/Apr 2006

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National News Roundup

California

Cases of whooping cough in California are at their highest in 30 years, leading to at least seven deaths of babies, according to the Los Angeles Times. The increase has puzzled health officials and surprised school administrators.

Los Angeles County, which saw fewer than 100 cases of whooping cough over the past five years, reported more than 300 cases through last September. In Orange County, cases spiked to 97 in 2002 and have remained elevated ever since, according to the Times.

People diagnosed with whooping cough, a bacterial infection formerly known as pertussis, experience intense coughing spells that often end with a "whoop" sound. The illness has been on the rise in the United States over the past two decades, partly because adolescents can outgrow their immunity. Addition-ally, some children remain vulnerable because they do not receive recommended vaccinations--at 2, 4, and 6 months of age; 15-18 months; and 4-6 years.

This year, federal health officials began recommending that teens and adults receive booster shots. Health officials are also suggesting people with persistent coughs stay away from babies who have not been fully vaccinated. "It's being transmitted oftentimes to very young babies before they're fully immunized, maybe from a loved one or grandparent," Los Angeles County Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding told the Times.

Illinois

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) signed a new law last November intended to broaden health insurance coverage to children, including those in working- and middle-class families, the New York Times reported.

Under the All Kids program, a fam-ily's costs will depend on household income. A family of four earning $41,000 a year will pay $40 a month for one child, and $80 a month for two or more children. Copayments at doctors' offices will be $10 each. A family of four earning $61,000-$79,000 will pay $70 for one child, $140 for two or more. Copays will be $15. Families who earn too much to be eligible for existing state and federally financed health programs can buy into All Kids.

"It's about time the middle class got some help and the working class got some help," Blagojevich told the Times. "Our kids come first, and what's the most important thing for kids? That they're safe and healthy."

Within hours of Blagojevich signing the law, Chicago-area residents were submitting contact information to enroll online, although the benefits won't kick in until July.

The new program is slated to cost $45 million in its first year. The Times cited critics who fear the law could end up costing far more at a time when the state's budget is already overburdened, and that Illinois might become a refuge for families from other states desperate to insure their children.

But according to aides for Blagojevich, shifting the management of 1.7 million Medicaid recipients will pay for the program. Those patients will have to go to a single physician who will work on problems earlier and save an estimated $56 million the first year.

"Other states are going to watch this very closely," Alan Weil, Executive Direc-tor of the National Academy for State Health Policy, told the Times. "There is broad interest in covering kids, and there will be interest in following Illinois if the story there turns out to be good."

Massachusetts

Boston police statistics show that half the 632 people arrested or sought in the city on illegal gun possession and gun assault charges between January and October 2005 were 21 or younger, according to the Boston Globe. Seventy-five were 17 or younger, compared with 55 during the same period in 2004.

Boston Police Superintendent Paul Joyce told the Globe that many of the teenagers who are using guns--some as young as 13--are involved in gangs. The number of gun arrests and arrest warrants was up 37% in Boston in 2005, compared with 2004; the number of seized guns up 12%, and the number of shootings up 28%.

Rev. Eugene Rivers, a minister who cofounded the Ten Point Coalition, a key player in developing Boston's community policing model, told the Globe the city is not doing enough to address the rise in ever-younger teenagers who are using guns.

"The city has been flooded with guns for the last few years," Rivers said. "There hasn't been an effective strategy developed with the community to consistently address what was happening on the street. It requires more than simply prayer meetings with the clergy to effectively target the young men engaged in this game."

Fifteen of Boston's 38 high schools screen students daily with walk-through metal detectors, the Globe reported. During the 2004-2005 school year, school police found 525 weapons, including eight guns.

Texas

A judge in Corpus Christi returned custody of a cancer-stricken 13-year-old to her parents last fall, ending a five-month legal battle over parents' rights to determine a child's medical treatment, according to the Houston Chronicle.

State District Judge Jack Hunter compromised with the parents, however, by ordering that Katie Wernecke undergo conventional therapy at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The girl's parents have opposed the therapy, according to the Chronicle.

Last May, Child Protective Services charged the Werneckes with neglect for not allowing radiation therapy for their daughter's Hodgkin's disease, a cancer considered very curable. Katie's parents allowed chemotherapy, but feared long-term effects of radiation. They elected to pursue intravenous Vitamin C therapy instead. The case pitted those who believe parents have a right to question treatment and pursue alternatives against those who believe parents' refusals to follow medical recommendations amounts to neglect.

Hunter said he would allow the Werneckes to pursue both conventional treatment and Vitamin C therapy, as well as radiation, if it became clear the treatment would be Katie's last hope. The family's lawyer, James Piki, said Hunter's ruling had important implications for parental rights.

"It means that when your child becomes sick, you do not have to merely stand by while state CPS workers tell you what your child will receive," Piki said in a statement published in the Chronicle. "You also need not fear that CPS will take your child away from you simply because you have a disagreement with CPS about what treatment is right for your child."

Vermont

Vermont Department of Health records show that children in the state continue to have dangerous amounts of lead in their bodies, despite legislation passed 10 years ago encouraging landlords to clean and maintain properties with lead paint, according to the Brattleboro Reformer.

Landlords are required by law to inspect their homes and apartments and file affidavits with the Department of Health as evidence they have followed safe maintenance practices. When the law was passed in 1996, insurance companies promised to provide incentives for safe housing by offering landlords increased liability protection if they properly maintained properties.

But over the past 10 years, the process has broken down at almost every level, according to the Reformer. The Vermont Department of Health report, Eliminating Childhood Lead Poisoning in Vermont by 2011, highlights the following:
  • Only 18% of the 2-year-olds in Vermont had received blood tests as of 2003.

  • In 2003, the Department of Health received only 2,555 affidavits from landlords showing they were protecting their tenants, representing less than 4% of the estimated 70,000 rental properties in the states.

  • The state does not keep a list of rental property owners and does not know the addresses of all landlords in Vermont.

  • Vermont has no system to make sure contractors are following safe practices, and no one is responsible for checking the accuracy of the affidavits.

  • The Health Department has never issued a health order against a landlord or taken a landlord to court to protect the health of children.
"Landlords could do a lot more to make sure kids don't get poisoned, but it's not happening," public health expert Jim McNamara told the Reformer. McNamara has been studying lead paint and health in Bellows Falls, Vermont, under a federal grant. "We are using these kids like canaries in a coal mine. We only go out to fix it after a child is poisoned, instead of preventing the lead-rich environments."

Massachusetts, by comparison, has a much stronger law that requires landlords to remove lead-based paints before renting apartments and homes. But Vermont, which has the second oldest housing stock in the nation, only requires landlords to clean the lead paint and make sure there is no flaking.


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