Children's Voice Nov/Dec 2006

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States Increasingly Calling Teens' Violent Plots "Terrorism"

New state laws are increasingly allowing prosecutors to charge teens who plot violent attacks against schoolmates as terrorists, according to an article in USA Today. Usually, students arrested under such allegations are charged with conspiracy, attempted assault, or making bomb threats.
In the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which left 15 people dead, and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, state laws are allowing prosecutors to get tough, though overall school safety has actually improved in the United States. Today, fewer than 1% of violent incidents involving teens takes place on campus, USA Today reports.

Several high profile cases in the past year, however, have prompted prosecutors to exercise their option to charge teens with terrorism, including the case against four New Jersey students who planned an assault at Winslow Township High School last April. Prosecutors charged the boys with first-degree terrorism, making terrorist threats, conspiracy to make terrorist threats, and conspiracy to commit murder.

Jurors in Macomb County, Michigan, found 18-year-old Andrew Osantowski guilty earlier this year of terrorism for making online threats to kill classmates at his suburban Detroit high school, and after authorities discovered an AK-47 assault rifle, pipe bombs, a schematic diagram of the school, and Nazi paraphernalia in the teen's home.

Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith said people would understand why such a charge was made if they saw "the sheer fear of the parents and others" in Osantowski's community.

Michael Greenberger, a law professor who directs the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, told USA Today, "I don't know what they achieve except [that] it looks like a prosecutor is doing a wonderful job. In the end of the year, when they tote up what they've done for terrorism, they include these kinds of cases."

CDF Report Puts Children and Gun Violence in Perspective

A new report from the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), Protect Children, Not Guns, sheds light on the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about children and gun violence.

According to national data, 2,827 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States in 2003. CDF's report calls this "a morally obscene statistic for the world's most powerful country, which has more resources to address its social ills than any other nation."

To put the statistic in perspective, CDF makes the following points:
  • "The number of children and teens killed by gun violence in 2003 alone exceeds the number of American fighting men and women killed in hostile action in Iraq from 2003 to April 2006."

  • "In 2003, 56 preschoolers were killed by firearms. In the same year, 52 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty."

  • "The number of children and teens in America killed by guns in 2003 would fill 113 public school classrooms of 25 students each."

  • "More 10- to 19-year-olds die from gunshot wounds than from any other cause except motor vehicle accidents."

  • "Almost 90 percent of the children and teens killed by firearms in 2003 were boys."
In its analysis of the CDC data, CDF also notes the seven states with the most firearm deaths of children and teens in 2003--California, Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas--and the seven states with the fewest firearm deaths of children and teens in 2003--Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont.

Capital Punishment Favored for Sex Offenders of Children

More states are making the death penalty an option for anyone convicted of a second or subsequent conviction for rape, sodomy, or lewd molestation involving a child.

Last June, Oklahoma became the fifth state to allow the death penalty for sex crimes against children under age 14, a day after South Carolina enacted a law allowing the death penalty for multiple offenses against children under 11, according to the Wichita Eagle.

In May in Kansas, Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) signed a new law calling on a sentence of life in prison without parole for sex offenders found guilty of at least three offenses of preying on children.

Florida, Louisiana, and Montana have similar laws. In 2003, Patrick O. Kennedy of Louisiana, was sentenced to death following his 2003 conviction for raping an 8-year-old girl, the Wichita Eagle reports.

KIDS COUNT Data Book Finds More Kids Living in Poverty

National trends in child well-being are no longer improving in the steady way they did in the late 1990s, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 17th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book. Each year, the Data Book reports on the needs and conditions of America's most disadvantaged children and families, as well as statistical trends.

According to the 2006 Data Book, 3 out of 10 child well-being indicators have worsened since 2000. More than 13 million children were living in poverty in 2004--an increase of 1 million over four years. The percentage of low-birthweight babies also increased between 2000 and 2003, as well as the number of children living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment.

"KIDS COUNT does contain good news in four areas: the child death rate and the teen death rate have fallen, the teen birth rate has continued to go down, and the high school dropout rate has improved," says William O'Hare, senior fellow at the Casey Foundation and author of the 2006 report. Looking across all well-being indicators, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut rank highest, and New Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi rank the lowest.

This year's KIDS COUNT Data Book includes an essay, "Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care: Strengthening a Critical Resource to Help Young Children Succeed," which zeroes in on a form of child care that has existed for decades, but has largely been overlooked. Within the Data Book, the Casey Foundation defines friend, family, and neighbor care as a form of child care offered in a home- or family-based setting, outside of the child's own home, by regulated or unregulated providers. The definition of home- and family-based care differs among states, organizations, and advocates, which shows the need for greater attention and clarity in the field.

 The Data Book is accessible online.

Urban Institute Brief Analyzes Kinship Care Surveys

The standard of living among children in kinship care improved significantly between 1997 and 2002, according to an issue brief published by the Urban Institute that analyzes three rounds of the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF). For nearly a decade, researchers have used the NSAF, a nationally representative survey of households, to gain insight into the health and well-being of children in kinship care.

The Urban Institute found in the data collected by NSAF in 1997, 1999, and 2002 that the portion of children in kinship care living in poverty declined steadily. The number of children in kinship care who do not have any health insurance is on a downward trend as well. Both trends occur more often for children in public kinship care than for children in private kinship care, although both groups' improvements were more pronounced than the gains made by kids living with their parents.

Over the past decade, public interest in kinship care has grown, and the use of kin as foster care parents increased substantially in the 1990s. In 2002, 2.3 million children lived with relatives with-out a parent present in the home.

 The Urban Institute brief is available online.

Lawsuit Claims Not Concerned with Child Safety

A 14-year-old Texas teen filed a $30 million lawsuit last June against the popular social networking website, claiming it fails to protect minors from adult sexual predators.

The lawsuit calls the site's security efforts "utterly ineffective." MySpace advises parents on a "tips" page that users must be 14 or older, but the site does nothing to verify the age of the user, such as requiring a driver's license or credit card number. All a user must do is provide his or her name, e-mail address, gender, country, and date of birth to open an account.

"MySpace is more concerned about making money than protecting children online," the Austin American-Statesman quoted Adam Loewy, the attorney representing the girl and her mother in the lawsuit against MySpace parent company News Corp., and Pete Solis, the 19-year-old accused of sexually assaulting the girl in an apartment complex parking lot after picking her up from school and taking her to dinner and a movie.

According to the lawsuit, attorneys general in five states, including Texas, have asked to provide more security.

Lauren Gelman, Associate Director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, told the American-Statesman she does not think MySpace is legally responsible for its user's actions off the site.

"If you interact on MySpace, you are safe, but if a 13-year-old or 14-year-old goes out in person and meets someone she doesn't know, that is always an unsafe endeavor. We need to teach our kids to be wary of strangers."

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