Children's Voice July/Aug 2006

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The Effect of Religiosity on Teen Sexual Behavior

Teens from religious families, and who have friends who regularly attend religious services, tend to have sex at later ages than do teens whose parents have less strong religious beliefs and whose peers don't attend services regularly, according to new research developed by Child Trends and released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
The research found that some 38% of teens whose parents score highest on a religiosity scale--based on beliefs, prayer, and attendance at religious services--have sex by age 18, compared with 44% of those whose parents score in the medium range, and 49% of those whose parents score lowest on the religiosity scale.

About 48% of teens have sex before age 18 when 25% or less of their peers regularly attend religious services. By comparison, 41% of teens have sex by age 18 when 75% or more of their peers regularly attend religious services, according to the research.

Closing the Education Gap for 100,000 College-Qualified Youth

If foster youth completed high school and attended postsecondary education at the same rate as their peers, nearly 100,000 additional foster youth 18-25 years old would be attending higher education, according to a report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Higher Education Opportunities for Foster Youth: A Primer for Policymakers estimates that at any time, approximately 300,000 youth ages 18-25--prime college-going years--are in the foster care system. Some 150,000 of these youth are college qualified, but only about 30,000 attend postsecondary education.

The report identifies a number of factors that keep youth in foster care from pursuing higher education, including overworked, underpaid, and insufficiently trained social workers; foster parents who turn over frequently and do not receive adequate training and support; and overburdened school counselors who don't provide the adult mentoring and nurturing for youth in foster care to develop independence and maturity.

Independent-living programs generally help youth in foster care ages 16-21 transition to self-sufficiency, according to the report, but the programs only serve about half the eligible youth in care.

The report makes several recommendations:
  • Achieving high levels of educational attainment for all youth in foster care should be embedded in the professional responsibilities of those who care for and serve them.

  • Sustained, comprehensive independent-living programs should be available to all youth in care as early as age 14.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should carry out its legislative mandates to systematically evaluate independent-living programs and encourage adoption of best practices.

  • States should be required to provide Medicaid coverage for youth in care up to age 24, especially to enable them to obtain mental health services.

  • Whenever possible, youth in foster care should remain in the same school even if their residential placement changes.

  • Federal programs such as TRIO, GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), and Free Application for Federal Student Aid should be modified to more effectively reach youth in foster care.
The full report is available online.

State-by-State Approaches to Reducing Unintended Pregnancies

Of the 6 million pregnancies that occur among American women each year, nearly half are unintended, resulting in 1.4 million unplanned births and 1.3 million abortions annually, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The institute recently assessed each state's level of commitment to improving access to contraception, and ranked them accordingly.

The analysis found that a geographically and politically diverse group of states, including Alabama, Alaska, California, New York, and South Carolina, rank highest in their efforts to serve women in need of contraceptive services, allocate public funding to family planning, and adopt laws and policies that promote access to contraceptive information and services.

The analysis also revealed that other states, including Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Utah, are "failing the women who live there," according to the institute. The report concludes that both state and national policymakers must take "bold new steps" to improve women's health if they are to meet the goal established by the federal government in 2000 for reducing unintended pregnancies by 40% nationwide by 2010.

"Our nation has shown an incredible ability to marshal resources and focus public attention to tackle some of the most challenging public health problems, such as smoking and obesity," says Guttmacher President and CEO Sharon Camp. "By following the example of states ranging from California to South Carolina, and Alaska to Alabama, which have made huge strides in improving access to contraception, we can make similar progress toward reducing unintended pregnancy in all states."

Real Parents Share Their Stories in Reunited

A new video funded by the Oregon Department of Human Services features the real stories of substance-abusing parents who talk openly about their recovery and their efforts to regain custody of their children from child protective services.

Most of the parents were addicted to methamphetamine when their children entered the child welfare system. A desire to make a better life for their families motivated the parents to sit before the camera and film the 25-minute video, Reunited. They not only talk about their recovery, but also about the benefits of working with the child welfare system. The film also provides information about the Adoption and Safe Families Act and the time limits for reunification mandated by the federal law.

Reunited is being distributed to all child welfare agencies in Oregon as a teaching tool for new parents who enter the child welfare system. Agencies elsewhere can purchase the video through www.ASFAvideo.org.

A Closer Look at Rural Children's Needs

Rural life can offer some children advantages and disadvantages at home and in early care and education settings, compared with the experience of nonrural children, according to findings in Rural Disparities in Baseline Data of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: A Chartbook.

Released by Child Trends and the National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives at Mississippi State University, the report outlines some of the advantages for children living in rural areas, including a greater likelihood of
  • contact with a nonresident or noncustodial parent within the previous four weeks for children not living with their fathers,

  • enrollment in a Head Start program during the year before kindergarten,

  • small kindergarten class sizes (15 or fewer children),

  • an orderly kindergarten class,

  • ratings of child social competence,

  • regular family dinners, and

  • safe neighborhoods.
Disadvantages for young children in rural areas, compared with their nonrural peers, did emerge in the research:
  • Mothers of infants in rural areas are more likely to report feelings of depression.

  • Other than Head Start, young children in rural areas are less likely to participate in center-based early care and education, a type of care that has been found to predict better language and cognitive development in children.

  • At kindergarten entry, a lower proportion of rural children are proficient in letter recognition and identifying the beginning sounds of words.
"These findings help specify where to target efforts," says Cathy Grace, Director of the National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives and a professor at Mississippi State University. "For example, strengthening the early language and literacy stimulation that young children receive is among the potential targets for work with young children in rural areas."

Educational Well-Being of U.S. Children Stagnate Since 1975

America has made great strides since 1975 in the well-being of children in many important areas, except education, according to the 2006 Child Well-Being Index (CWI), which measures the trends in the quality of life of children and youth.

"The overall well-being of children and youth in the United States has persistently improved over the past decade," says CWI developer and Duke University sociologist Kenneth Land. "This year's Child Well-Being Index, however, raises serious concerns around education and illustrates the urgent need for policies and practices that serve our nation's youth in this area."

In a statement, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said,
Over the last five years, more reading progress was made among 9-year-olds than in the previous three decades combined. While this is great news for our younger students, we are not seeing the same kind of results at the high school level, where reading and math scores remain stagnant. It's time we make high school reform a priority, apply the principles of No Child Left Behind, and ensure that a high school education in America is a ticket to success, not a certificate of attendance.
Ruby Takanishi, President of the Foundation for Child Development, points out the need to better use research to guide policy to move educational attainment levels upward. "We have seen how effective integrated prekindergarten to grade three programs can be in giving children a strong foundation with which to start life," Takanishi says. "Quality early education programs that couple strong curricula with qualified and competent teachers are essential to maintain prekindergarten's momentum through primary and secondary grades."

On the positive side, the CWI indicates that, since 1975, fewer teenage girls are having babies, and fewer children are smoking, drinking, using illegal drugs, and committing crimes. More 3- and 4-year-olds are attending pre-K, more young adults are getting college degrees, decreasing numbers of children are committing suicide, and more young people are attending religious services.

A national, research-based composite measure updated annually, the CWI combines data from 28 indicators across seven domains into a single number for child well-being. To read a full report about this year's CWI, visit www.soc.duke.edu/~cwi.

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