Children's Voice Sep/Oct 2006

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National News Roundup

Kentucky

Veteran state social workers and other professionals who work with vulnerable families contend that some administrators in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services are inappropriately recommending that courts terminate birthparents' rights to increase the number of Kentucky foster children who are adopted, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

Louisville-based National Institute on Children, Youth, and Families and Kentucky Youth advocates released a report last winter--The Other Kentucky Lottery--that raises concerns about "quick trigger" foster care adoptions, in which children are separated from their parents too quickly or without evidence to justify their removal. The report is based on 225 complaints received through an anonymous hotline set up to alleviate child protection system employees' concerns about violating confidentiality laws.

"There are complaints some supervisors and workers are unwilling to listen, complaints about the arrogance of power," David Richart, Executive Director of the National Institute on Children, Youth, and Families, told the Herald-Leader. "I suspect this is happening in other states. We appear to be one of the first groups to identify this as a problem."

Cabinet Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti III says investigations into the allegations, which could result in administrative actions and criminal prosecutions, are under way. Tom Emberton Jr., Commissioner of the Department for Community-Based Services, which oversees foster care adoptions, requested the investigations, although he has yet to see evidence of quick-triggering adoptions, he told the Herald-Leader. But he adds the investigations are not over. "I don't want to paint a picture that we aren't concerned."

The number of Kentucky children in foster care who were adopted increased from 384 in 1999 to 902 in 2005, resulting in $1 million in bonus money paid to the state in 2004 under a federal program that encourages states to move children into adoptive families.

Federal authorities began cracking down on Kentucky in 1999 for allowing children to stay in foster care too long and found the Cabinet out of compliance again in 2003 for not correcting the problem fast enough. The state faced $1.7 million in fines if the situation didn't improve.

Michigan

Michigan is extending family planning services to 200,000 uninsured women, the Detroit News reports, including using $183 million from Medicaid to provide birth control to women ages 19-44 who can't afford it, and providing education and prenatal and postnatal counseling.

The state's plan is expected to save at least $80 million annually because of the high cost of caring for low-income women's unplanned pregnancies, which costs Michigan $270 million in Medicaid money each year.

"We believe extending these services to low-income womenOegreatly increases the chances every pregnancy in Michigan is a wanted one," Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) said in a prepared statement. "If all pregnancies were intended, the state would see significant reductions in infant mortality, child abuse, child neglect, and abortion."

The plan has drawn opponents, however. Paul Long, Vice President for Public Policy with the Michigan Catholic Conference, points to a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute that found 50% of women who had abortions were taking birth control.

"To think we would spend almost $200 million of existing dollars for a program that is controversial and won't work 50% of the time is a poor decision and poor public policy," Long said in the Detroit News.

On the other hand, Renee Chelian, Director of Northland Family Planning Centers, told the News, "There is certainly an unmet need for the working uninsured. Most health departments have cut family planning services and, with the exception of a couple of agencies that offer low-cost birth control, there are no places for women to go."

Michigan is unveiling the program through a federal waiver that allows existing Medicaid dollars to be used differently. At least 20 other states have been granted similar waivers.

Minnesota

Dakota County officials are opening a Family Dependency Treatment Court, the first of its kind in the state, aimed at parents addicted to methamphetamine and other drugs who need treatment as a step toward being reunited with their children, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

The court, expected to open in 2006, will require drug offenders to meet every two weeks with a judge, public defender, prosecutor, social worker, and children's advocate to review their cases and determine treatment progress. Once a treatment schedule is established, the meetings would become monthly. The system, according to the Pioneer Press, is expected to offer more rewards and supervision of parents than traditional child-protection cases, which hold hearings every 90 days.

"Obviously there's an incentive to get their kids back, but it's going to be a pretty rigorous program," says Judge Ed Lynch, who will preside over the cases. "It will be interesting to see how many [parents] are willing to make that commitment."

Traditional child-protection cases become more complicated when meth abusers are involved, because the parents may need extra help getting organized, enrolling in treatment services, and finding transportation and health insurance.

Dakota County social workers have seen an increase in the numbers of children--many younger than 5--taken from their parents and placed in foster care due to meth abuse. Half of the 150 child-protection cases open at any given time involve drug or alcohol abuse, and about a third involve meth, county officials told the Pioneer Press.

Mississippi

Forty percent of Mississippi students, or about 16,000 teens, dropped out of high school in 2004, according to the Hattiesburg American, and that rate has alarmed lawmakers and advocacy groups.

A Washington-based advocacy organization, the Alliance for Excellence in Education, provided details of the state's dropout situation in a report released earlier this year. Mississippi will lose at least $4 billion in wages, taxes, and productivity over the lifetimes of the students who didn't graduate in 2004 alone, the report outlines.

"A lower dropout rate should increase our workforce and ratchet up the quality of jobs we can attract, which helps our economy," State Representative Cecil Brown (R-Jackson) told the Hattiesburg American. "The dropout rate has a huge economic impact."

State officials are hoping the newly created Office of Dropout Prevention will help keep more kids in school. The office was created as part of Governor Haley Barbour's (R) Upgrade Education package. The office is expected to spend the next year compiling data on dropouts and conducting research about root causes, Brown told the Hattiesburg American, although the full benefits of the program likely will not be seen for about 10 years.

The problems that lead to dropping out usually begin by the third grade, Brown says. "Reading is a big issue. Kids who fall behind tend to get further behind, and we have to give those kids additional help."

New Jersey

New Jersey lawmakers have signed a law--the first of its kind in the nation--making screening for and education about postpartum depression a mandatory element of postnatal care.

According to the Star-Ledger, Mary Jo Codey, wife of State Senate President and former Governor Richard Codey (D), spearheaded the issue by talking openly about her own struggle with postpartum depression. "I suffered like a dog and thought no woman on Earth should ever suffer like this."

At the time, Codey said, she thought to herself, "If God would ever get me out of this mess, I wouldn't keep my mouth shut. I would do something about it."

Governor Jon Corzine (D) signed the $4.5 million legislation into law, despite the state's massive budget deficit, because, he said, appropriate treatment was "a significant and positive step for New Jersey's mothers, newborns, and families."

According to state officials, about 80% of women experience postpartum depression, but for most, symptoms don't last more than two weeks. For one in eight women, however, the situation may be more serious, with women losing interest in friends and family, feeling overwhelming sadness, and even having thoughts of hurting their child.

North Carolina

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley (D) has signed an executive order enacting tougher rules on the state's group homes, including requiring they upgrade treatment programs, hire more staff, and better train them.

The Charlotte Observer reports that Easley's action ended a year of wrangling between state officials and group home operators over whether the old rules were too weak and the new rules too aggressive.

The order will affect about 800 group homes located in residential neighborhoods and treating children suffering from emotional problems and mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder. For most of the children, their conditions are too severe for their parents to handle, but not serious enough for them to enter psychiatric hospitals.

The new rules allocate about $20 additional per child for the group home operators, although some operators worry the increase won't be enough. The increase doesn't come "anywhere close to funding the increase in the cost of the rules," Craig Bass, CEO of Charlotte's Alexander Youth Network, told the Observer.

North Carolina group homes came under scrutiny in 2004 when a 12-year-old child died of asphyxiation after a poorly trained group home worker restrained her by lying on her. The home hadn't been inspected in two years, according to the Observer.

On Easley's orders, authorities checked every group home in the state last year for violations, ultimately closing 10 and issuing 106 sanctions against 71. Lawmakers approved $2.5 million to hire about two-dozen new inspectors.


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