Children's Voice May/June 2006

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National News Roundup

Connecticut

The Hartford Courant reports that Connecticut's Department of Children and Families (DCF) is handling nearly 800 fewer licensed foster homes today than in 2001.

In response to the crisis, DCF announced last year it would pay a private organization $250,000 to better market the department's needs and increase recruitment efforts. A dozen organizations made inquiries, but none offered a bid, according to the Courant.

An upsurge in adoptions is one reason for the decline in foster homes, says DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt. Also fueling more adoptions are subsidized guardianships, college tuition assistance for adopted children, and other incentives for foster parents who adopt the children in their care; 70% of the agency's adoptions are by foster parents, Kleeblatt says.

On the other hand, many foster parents are leaving out of frustration, according to Jean Fiorito, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents. A recent survey of foster parents who left the system found that 28% left because of adoption and 22% left because they believed DCF did not support them enough, Fiorito told the Courant.

Florida

Florida is one of only a few states that came close to its goal for monthly visitation of children by caseworkers, a report by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has found. Currently, 43 states aim for monthly visitation.

Federal officials studied Florida's visitation rate during a nine-month period in 2003 and found that Department of Children and Families caseworkers made monthly visits 95% of the time on average, according to the Miami Herald.

By comparison, California officials met their goal 86% of the time, and Texas reached its goal 75% of the time. Some states were much lower, including West Virginia, where caseworkers made monthly visits only 42% of the time, the Herald reported. Some states couldn't provide data on how well they were doing on the measure, according to HHS.

Linda Spears, CWLA Vice President of Communications, says CWLA's standards call for children to be seen once a month, at a minimum, to check on their well-being. She points out that Florida's improvements have come in the wake of some high profile cases of children falling through the cracks, including the case of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, who state officials believe was killed in December 2000 while in state care, and about 15 months before officials realized she was missing.

"Because of the issues they've had to deal with around the Rilya case, they have paid attention to it," Spears told the Herald. "I think the agency said, 'We are not performing at our best'...and made changes."

The next step, Spears points out, is for caseworkers to gather valuable information to protect children. The inspector general's report did not measure the quality of visits, only whether states were meeting goals for making the visits.

Kentucky

A judge has ordered Kentucky's Juvenile Justice Department to reassess about 400 youth in its 11 state-run centers to determine whether they should be in "less-restrictive" settings, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Franklin County Circuit Judge William Graham ruled the state is violating the law by sending hundreds of young offenders to live in state-run centers--some locked and surrounded by fences--instead of foster care or group homes, where they might be better served.

"They committed low-level offenses and ended up in high-level facilities," Public Defender Gail Robinson told the Courier-Journal. Robinson filed a lawsuit in 2004 on behalf of teens she believed were mistakenly placed in centers.

State juvenile justice officials plan to appeal the ruling. "We very strongly disagree with the judge's ruling, and we are going to pursue this as far as we can to try to do the right thing," says Commissioner Bridget Skaggs Brown.

The department will begin reassessing youth during the appeals process. "We believe there will be irreparable harm to the community if we are forced to release some youth out in the community who have committed very serious criminal acts," Brown told the Courier-Journal.

Kentucky juvenile justice regulations call for the department to score youth on various factors, such as the seriousness of the offense and other factors, and to place youth in the least-restrictive environment to rehabilitate them.

But Robinson alleges in her lawsuit that several years ago the state began to disregard those rules and send most youth to residential centers without changing state law. Robinson told the Courier-Journal she and other public defenders who frequently visit juvenile centers began noticing more youth being held for relatively minor offenses.

Maryland

In January, Maryland Department of Human Resources Secretary Christopher McCabe established a separate office directly under his authority to license and monitor 200 privately run group homes for troubled youth, the Baltimore Sun reports.

McCabe appointed Carmen Brown, an executive at the Board of Child Care--one of the state's largest and most respected group home agencies--as the first director of the new Office of Group Home Licensing and Monitoring.

"It's a significant step for the department," McCabe told the Sun. "We're better positioned to be even stronger in the responsibilities of licensing and monitoring." The Sun ran a series of articles last year reporting that state regulators had failed to monitor group homes, allowing for mistreatment or neglect of children. The articles also reported many group homes employed unqualified or poorly trained workers, including some with criminal records. Some of the home operators were involved in instances of financial self-dealing as well, according to the Sun.

Previously, a larger agency within the Maryland Department of Human Resources handled oversight of the homes, in addition to overseeing foster families and other child welfare tasks. The new Group Home Licensing and Monitoring office will employ 18 people to review applications for new group homes and ensure facilities meet state guidelines.

Montana

Montana's state health department plans to increase the number of children who can get free or low-cost health insurance through the state's Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), according to the Billings Gazette.

About 12,000 children statewide are enrolled in the CHIP program, which provides health insurance to children of low-income families. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) wants to increase this number by 2,000 children.

"Parents who think affordable health coverage for their kids is an impossible dream should explore CHIP as a solution," PHHS Director Joan Miles told the Gazette. "We have no waiting list, and we're moving ahead to sign up 2,000 new kids. So the time is right."

Increased funding by the 2005 legislature, and a voter-approved cigarette tax increase in 2004, designating part of the money for CHIP, is making the expansion possible. Miles says as many as 15,000 Montana children could qualify for CHIP.

Under CHIP guidelines, a family of three with an annual income of $24,135, or a family of four with a $29,025 annual income, may be eligible for CHIP.

Texas

African American children in Texas stay in foster care longer and wait longer for adoption than do white or Hispanic children, according to an analysis by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Department of Family and Protective Services.

The analysis also revealed the trend is closely tied to poverty and recommends more parenting classes and services for lower-income Texans, the Austin American-Statesman reports. At least 60% of children removed from homes in Texas come from families earning $10,000 or less annually, the study said. Two years ago, about 12% of Texas's children were African American, but about 20% of children living in families with income below $10,000 were African American.

Researchers are unsure why Hispanic children, who share some of the same economic disadvantages as African Americans, leave the system at about the same rate as white children. "Examining the overrepresentation of African American children in foster care is a step in the right direction, and I hope the state of Texas will consider real policy change in order to truly address the problem," State Representative Dawnna Dukes (D) told the American-Statesman.

Dukes added that the study demonstrates the need for more children to be placed with kin after being removed from their homes. "We need to look at the mind-set of those who are working in the system and their understanding culturally of the African American community. One of the greatest complaints we had is that African American families were not given the opportunity to become the foster caregiver."

State lawmakers asked for the report in 2005 in an attempt to improve both child and adult protective services.


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