Children's Voice July/Aug 2006

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National News Roundup

Delaware

With Delaware having the seventh worst rate in the nation for the number of babies who die before their first birthday, The News Journal, in Wilmington, conducted an analysis of state birth statistics from 1992 through 2003, the latest figures available. Among the results:
  • Pregnant women who didn't receive health care were eight times more likely to lose their babies.

  • Greater numbers of older, suburban women are giving birth to smaller babies with more medical problems than those born to younger women.

  • The state's poorest communities accounted for 26% of state births and 34% of infant deaths.

  • Black women went without health care or delayed health care more often than did white women.

  • Black women are almost three times more likely than white women to give birth to low birthweight babies, and they lose their babies at twice the rate of white women.
In the early 1990s, Delaware lawmakers funded home visitation, managed care, and the opening of health centers in 17 of the state's 29 high schools as a way to battle the state's infant death rate, which had sunk to the worst in the nation in 1991, according to The News Journal. The infant death rate improved to just under 7 deaths in 1,000 in 1994, but the rate began to creep back up in the late 1990s after the state began cutting the programs that had helped the rate to drop.

In 2004, Governor Ruth Ann Minner (D) directed a state task force to investigate why so many babies were dying before their first birthday. "We don't know the answer to the question why Delaware's rate is so high," task force Cochair Al Snyder told The News Journal. "We know there are multiple causes."

Illinois

The Chicago Public Schools and the Greater Chicago Food Depository have partnered to create Nourish for Knowledge, a program that sends kids home from school for the weekend with bags of food, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Active in 16 city schools in low-income neighborhoods, the program sends bags filled with granola bars, nuts, fruit bars, and nonperishable milk home with about 2,460 Chicago schoolchildren each week. The program is patterned after similar efforts in cities nationwide, including Kansas City, New Haven, and Tucson.

"There are so many kids whose parents just don't have the means to provide enough nutrition for the kids and, unfortunately, there is a population of kids who just miss meals," Food Depository Executive Director Mike Mulqueen told the Tribune.

Last summer, Chicago's school district started a new summer program to provide meals for children at more than 400 schools in low-income neighborhoods, regardless of whether they were enrolled in school. The program unearthed great demand, serving about 1.2 million meals through the summer.

"It's a recognition on the part of food banks and schools that many families right now are having trouble making ends meet in terms of their food budget," Lynn Parker, Director of child-nutrition programs at the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, DC, told the Tribune. "During the weekend, they know that when school meals aren't available, the children and their families are struggling financially and need the extra help."

Nourish for Knowledge is funded by the Food Depository and the McCormick Tribune Foundation's Communities Program Funds, including the Chicago Tribune Charities, Bears Care, and Cubs Care.

Kansas

A recent federal ruling has found that Kansas is out of compliance with its own Medicaid plan. The state-written plan restricts stays in group homes to between 140 and 180 days, depending on the level of services provided, yet Kansas has continued to pay providers for longer stays, according to the Lawrence Journal-World.

"This has been going on for years--10 years, maybe. It's never been questioned," Bruce Linhos, Executive Director at Children's Alliance of Kansas, told the Lawrence Journal-World.

Federal officials with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services ruled last December that payments for longer stays were improper. According to state officials, the crackdown does not mean children have to be moved, but that the state can no longer bill Medicaid for their stays. Without federal funds, the state will have to cover all of the costs, rather than the usual 40%. Across the state, group homes receive $121.50 per day for each child in their care, the Journal-World reports.

"Bad, risky decisions are being made with the lives of some very vulnerable children--and for no good reason other than a conflict between bureaucracies," said Bill Craig in the Journal-World. Craig is President and CEO at Lakemary Center, a school and residential center for children with severe mental disabilities.

Local legislators are aware of the Medicaid ruling and are trying to address it. State Representative Brenda Landwehr, a Republican from Wichita, told the Journal-World that efforts were under way in the legislature to come up with about $750,000 to pay for group home stays through June 30, 2006, the end of the state's fiscal year.

Michigan

Background checks conducted earlier this year on about 200,000 current Michigan school employees revealed that some 2,500 employees had been convicted of crimes, including sexual assault, homicide, and kidnapping, according to The Detroit News.

More than 100 employees had been convicted of sex crimes, which is immediate grounds for termination under tougher new school safety laws--known as the Student Safety Initiative--enacted last year. The initiative requires criminal background checks on all school employees, including janitors, cafeteria workers, coaches, and paraprofessionals. Before the initiative, only new teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, school psychologists, and bus drivers were required to undergo background checks.

Michigan House Speaker Craig DeRoche (R), who promoted the new laws, told The Detroit News he was surprised by the results of the checks and hoped it would result in greater acceptance by teachers of the background checks. "You can't educate children if you can't provide a safe environment," DeRoche said.

The background checks, performed by state police who cross-checked their database of known criminals with the Department of Education's school employee database, found 23 school employees had been convicted of homicide, 11 of child abuse, 10 of escaping jail or prison, 355 of drug felonies, and 21 of armed robbery. Under the new safety laws, it will be left up to each schools district's discretion whether to terminate these employees.

New Jersey

The New Jersey Child Care Economic Impact Council, made up of day care providers, advocates, and business and community leaders, has conducted an analysis of the industry to call attention to its contributions and needs, according to The Star-Ledger.

Public preschools and the child care industry pumped $2.55 billion into the state's economy in 2005, and child care centers, preschools, and afterschool programs have created 65,300 full-time jobs, more than any other industry in New Jersey, including transportation, warehousing, and telecommunications.

"Many people felt the child care community was more like babysitting services and not really an industry," Council Cochair Ana Berdecia told The Star-Ledger. "It needs to be paid attention to by policymakers throughout the state."

With the average child care worker earning only $16,900 in 2000, the study points out that families and employers would be better serviced by the industry if administrators, teachers, and providers were better paid, and if more quality infant and toddler programs were created.

The study goes on to recommend that government and private industry work together to create an agency that could establish quality standards, provide training for people working in the field, and identify ways to make services more accessible and affordable to working parents.

"The child care industry still faces a number of challenges in meeting the needs of families, children, and employers in the state," the report says. "If New Jersey addresses these challenges, it can increase the bottom line returns for New Jersey employers and public returns on government investments."

The industry also needs political will and attention, Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director of the Association for Children in New Jersey, told The Star-Ledger. "We need an entity--an office of early learning in the governor's policy office--that says this is a priority issue."

The study was paid for by the John S. Watson Institute of Public Policy at Thomas Edison State College, the state Department of Human Services, the Hispanic Directors Association of New Jersey, and Children's Futures, a private-public program benefiting preschool-age children in Trenton.

Oregon

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) signed an executive order last winter authorizing a form of collective bargaining for 6,000 state-listed child care workers who watch as many as three children, the Statesman Journal reports.

Service Employees International Union Local 503 (SEUI), Oregon's largest state workers union, spent 18 months persuading 56% of child care workers to sign cards authorizing the union to represent them. The union will now seek to negotiate better terms for child care workers and the families they serve.

"The circumstances they face are so dire that most of the providers leaped at the chance to join a union," the Local 503 Executive Director Leslie Frane told the Statesman Journal.

SEUI's success follows the unionization of 4,500 state-licensed child care workers under the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 75 last September due to a similar executive order by Kulongoski.

"I'm hoping with all the unions out there that they will support us and fight for the best for these kids," day care provider DeAnna Zuill told the Statesman Journal.

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