Children's Voice Sep/Oct 2006

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Rags to Riches Chances

A new report from the Center for American Progress, Understanding Mobility in America, discusses the chances for an American child who is born poor to end up rich, and the strength of the correlation between the chances of upward class mobility and factors such as education and effort.

Major findings from the report include:
  • Children from low-income families have only a 1% chance of reaching the top 5% of the income distribution, versus children of the rich, who have about a 22% chance.

  • Children born to the middle quintile of parental family income ($42,000-$54,300) had about the same chance of ending up in a lower quintile than their parents (39.5%) as they did of moving to a higher quintile (36.5%).

  • African American children born in the bottom quartile are nearly twice as likely to remain there as adults than are white children.

  • The United States has an unusually low level of intergenerational mobility: Our parents' income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults. Only the United Kingdom had a lower rate of mobility.

  • The overall volatility of household income increased significantly between 1990-1991 and 1997-1998, and again in 2003-2004.

  • People who work long hours on a consistent basis no longer appear to be able to generate much upward mobility for their families.
The full report is available on the Center for American Progress website.

Five States Receive Foster Care Funding Waivers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has granted foster care funding waivers to California, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, and Virginia.

The waivers will allow California, Florida, and Michigan to modify how they use federal funds to provide early intervention and intensive in-home services for abused and neglected children. In Iowa and Virginia, waivers will provide subsidies to families who assume legal guardianship of children in foster care. Iowa will also provide intensive case planning and services for older children transitioning or leaving foster care.

HHS announced the waivers last spring, just before its authority to grant such waivers expired, and shortly after it released new national child abuse and neglect data for 2004. Three million children were reported abused and neglected during 2004, with 872,000 children confirmed as victims of maltreatment, and nearly 1,500 fatalities from abuse.

Shortly after the waivers were announced, CWLA released a statement noting the data, "have changed only slightly from year to year because as a country we have done very little to provide needed services and address the underlying causes of child abuse and neglect."

CWLA went on to address the recently granted state waivers: "In each instance, the states seek to conduct worthy efforts to meet the needs of children, and we commend them for their innovative approaches. But states should not be forced into a position to request waivers to avoid the impact of a federal funding formula that in no way relates to the needs of children who have been abused and neglected.

"The need to lock in this funding and create additional flexibility is the result of an outdated, ineffective system of providing limited federal support for the protection and treatment of this nation's abused and neglected children."

Too Many Kids in Need, Too Few Psychiatrists to Help

A shortage of psychiatrists in the United States is worsening as the stigma of mental health problems recedes and more families seek help for their children, including prescriptions for psychiatric drugs, according to an article in the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas.

"There is no state where this is not a problem--none," says Gregory Fritz, Director of Child Psychology at Brown Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, in the Star-Telegram. "We see it in the emergency ward every night, where problems have gotten out of hand over time due to lack of intervention, and progress to a point where a kid is suicidal or dangerous."

A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures warns the demand for drugs is intense, and the shortage of psychiatrists "forces kids to see other practitioners for medication management who might not have the training or experience to appropriately treat them."

According to the Star-Telegram, two main factors are to blame for the shortage: Child psychiatrists must undergo an extra two years of training on top of four years of medical school and three years of general psychiatry; and reimbursement rates do not cover the time required for a psychiatrist to interview parents, teachers, and others aware of a child's behavior.

On average, there is only one child psychiatrist for every 15,000 youth under age 18, resulting in a caseload of 750 seriously disturbed children per doctor, according to a study commissioned by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists in 2003. West Virginia has 1.3 child psychiatrists per 100,000 young people, the Star-Telegram reports.

Savings with Systems of Care

Children and youth served by systems of care that provide community-based services spend less time in inpatient care, experience fewer arrests, make improvements in their overall mental health, and do better in school than before enrollment, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The SAMHSA data suggests that systems of care save taxpayers money when compared with the traditional mental health service delivery systems. On average, systems of care save public health systems $2,776.85 per child in inpatient costs, and juvenile justice systems $784.16 per child, over the course of a year.

The SAMHSA data also shows:
  • The percentage of children who used inpatient facilities within the previous six months decreased 54% from entry into systems of care to 18 months after systems of care.

  • Emotional and behavioral problems were reduced significantly or remained stable for nearly 90% of children after 18 months in systems of care.

  • The percentage of children and youth who deliberately harmed themselves or attempted suicide decreased 32% after 12 months in systems of care.

  • The percentage of children with regular school attendance during the previous six months increased nearly 10%, with 84% attending school regularly after 18 months in systems of care.

Calling on Help for Katrina's Young Survivors

Earlier this year, the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) released a report, Katrina's Children: A Call to Conscience and Action, urging immediate mental health and health services to children struggling to cope with Katrina's trauma.

The report included recommendations for an emergency children's health and mental health corps, mobile health vans, school-based health clinics, and emergency Medicaid relief to cut through state requirements and bureaucratic barriers.

In addition to emergency health and mental health assistance, CDF called for immediate attention to the public education and afterschool needs of Katrina survivor children. CDF has opened emergency afterschool "CDF Freedom Schools" in Mississippi and is working on similar efforts with local historically black colleges and universities and organizations in Louisiana.

"Our efforts are a drop in the basket of need," says CDF President Marian Wright Edelman. "Our invisible children need to be on the front burner of adult and national concern and action. This is not a time for business as usual, compassion fatigue, moving on to the next story, partisan political games, or citizen apathy."

CDF's report cites Bruce D. Perry of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, who warns:
The real crisis from Katrina is coming. It is more relentless and more powerful than the floodwaters in New Orleans...Over our lifetime, this crisis will cost our society billions upon billions of dollars. Yet our society may not have the wisdom to see that the real crisis of Katrina is the hundreds of thousands of ravaged, displaced, and traumatized children, and may not have the will to prevent the crisis.

Tracking Kids via Satellite

More cell phone companies are taking advantage of global positioning system (GPS) technology to turn kids' phones into tracking devices, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Last spring, Sprint Nextel began offering downloadable software for parents and other caregivers to use to follow children on their own cell phone video screens or online.

A new phone due out this summer from Disney will offer similar GPS locating controls, but Sprint is the first major U.S. carrier to offer such a service, the Tribune reports. For a monthly fee of $9.99, Sprint's new "Family Locator" plan can be used with up to four phones. Some current Sprint phones can download the program, but some customers will have to buy new phones.

To use the Family Locator plan, a parent tells the phone to find the child, and the location is displayed on a map visible on the parent's phone or from a personal computer connected to the Internet. Once the child has been located, the child receives a text message from the parent's phone.


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