Children's Voice Nov/Dec 2006

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National News Roundup

Idaho

Insufficient education, low-paying jobs, early parenting, and high rates of juvenile incarceration all contribute to a grim outlook for Idaho youth, compared with other states, according to the recently released Idaho KIDS COUNT report.

"While seven out of eight young adults in Idaho were employed recently, many of these adults fail to earn enough to make ends meet, do without health insurance, and carry heavy debt burdens," the Bonner County Daily Bee quoted Judy Brown, Director of the Idaho Center on Budget and Tax Policy and one of the authors of the report, which was compiled in partnership with Partners for Prosperity, an Idaho nonprofit organization.

Brown recommends policies to improve the earning power of Idaho youth and opportunities for better-paying jobs. In addition to raising the minimum wage, she is calling on a state earned-income tax credit and increasing the availability to education and job-access programs.

"These enhancements and transitions for more of Idaho's young adults would be to the benefit of the young people themselves and to the rest of the state as well," she told the Daily Bee.

Mining, utilities, and manufacturing are the state's highest wage sectors for young adults, but these jobs are on the decline, while the lowest paying jobs in the service sector are expanding.

Brown also points out that young adults in Idaho are more likely to be married and to be parents than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

Indiana

Poor children in Indiana's juvenile courts are not adequately represented in court and are more likely than their wealthier peers to be incarcerated and on the taxpayers' bill--$40,000-$100,000 annually per incarcerated child, according to the Indianapolis Star.

The findings are the result of a comprehensive review conducted by the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Children's Law Center in conjunction with the Indiana Juvenile Justice Task Force, which commissioned the study. The study found:
  • About half of the 26,000 youth with juvenile cases go without legal representation. The rate is 80% in some counties.

  • Courts don't do a good job of explaining the consequences of not having an attorney.

  • Public defenders are appointed too late in the process to adequately prepare a case.

  • Many public defenders have excessive caseloads and inadequate resources.

  • Schools and child welfare agencies overwhelm the court with children better served through community programs.
"If this was happening in any other country, Amnesty International and our government would be there condemning it, but we do it every day," Larry A. Landis, Executive Director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, told the Star.

The study gathered its information through visits to courts and interviews with juveniles, parents, judges, and attorneys in 11 counties, said Juvenile Justice Task Force Executive Director Bill Glick. The report on the study's findings, Indiana--An Assessment of Access to Counsel and Quality of Representation in Delinquency Proceedings, includes 11 recommendations for the legislature, county officials, judges, and attorneys to improve services for indigent youth.

The money spent to incarcerate juveniles could be put to better use, Glick said. "For $40,000, you could hire another half-time public defender or send a kid to Harvard. If public defenders had the time and resources, and got involved in cases earlier, we could send more kids to intensive community-based services, get better outcomes, and save money, too."

Elizabeth Kehoe, an attorney and one of the authors of the report, pointed out that Indiana is not unique. "Money and resources are a problem everywhere," she said in the Star.

Iowa

Iowa is now one of only a handful of states that offers youth in foster care financial assistance when they age out of the system, as well as extended Medicaid coverage until they turn 21.

Last spring, Governor Tom Vilsack (D) signed into law a new state program called Preparation for Adult Living. Effective July 1, 2006, the program pays a stipend of up to $540 a month for housing, food, transportation, and other living expenses for former foster youth who are in school or working full time. Youth must work with a caseworker to develop a budget plan. They are permitted to continue living with their foster family, but they cannot live with the parents from whom they had been removed.

To be eligible, the youth aging out of care must be 18 and graduate from high school on or after May 1 this year. About 550 youth in foster care turn 18 every year in Iowa.

Gary Stangler, Executive Director of the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, told the Des Moines Register about 17 states offer financial assistance to kids aging out of foster care, and about a dozen states extend Medicaid coverage until age 21, but few offer both.

According to USA Today, Washington State enacted a law similar to Iowa's early in 2006, as did Texas and Oregon in 2005, and New Jersey in 2004. Illinois, New York, and Washington, DC, also cover kids in foster care up to age 21, and Massachusetts and Connecticut do so until age 23.

Ohio

A new law affecting foster and adoptive families is requiring that children's services agencies communicate with one another and conduct more thorough assessments when five or more children are placed in a home.

The law came in response to the cases of 11 special-needs children adopted or in the process of being adopted by Michael and Sharen Gravelle before authorities discovered some of the children were forced to sleep in wood and wire cages, according to the Toledo Blade. Multiple agencies, working independently inside and outside Ohio, placed children with the Gravelles.

Specifically, the law
  • makes it a crime for families to not report past involvement with child welfare agencies;

  • requires a special assessment of adoptive homes with five or more children, and monthly follow-up visits until a court finalizes an adoption;

  • creates a statewide adoption and child welfare information system into which agencies must report known or suspected abuse; and

  • steps up training for caseworkers and potential foster and adoptive parents.
"When people are placing [children] in any particular county, now there will be a central agency keeping track of how many kids are in that home at all times," State Representative Jeff Wagner (R) told the Blade. "When there are two placed from this agency and three from that agency, sometimes you just lose track, and this makes sure that somebody is keeping track."

Utah

Teens ages 16 or 17 can now seek emancipation from their parents, thanks to a new law signed by Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. (R). Under such status, the teens will be able to get housing, school, and other services independently, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The law is designed to benefit so-called Lost Boys--youth who have fled or been kicked out of their homes in a polygamous community in the state. Gay teens who have run away or been told to leave their homes are also likely to benefit, the Tribune reports.

"This is not about taking children from their parents," the Tribune quoted State Representative Lori Fowlke (R). "This is about children who do not have parents who care for them."

With the help of a guardian ad litem or other adult, the new law will allow teens to petition a juvenile court judge for emancipated status. About a dozen youth a year are expected to take advantage of the law.

Over the past decade, the Tribune reports, hundreds of teens have reportedly fled from Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints communities in Utah and Arizona, telling of parents and church leaders' control over lifestyle decisions.

Washington

Washington is using semi trucks to advertise large posters of missing children in the hopes they will be seen by thousands of commuters and hopefully recognized by someone, the Seattle Times reports.

The initiative is part of the Washington State Patrol's Homeward Bound program. The first trucks baring the 90-inch by 90-inch posters hit the roads last spring, traveling nationwide and up and down the West Coast's Interstate 5.

"This could really make a difference," the Times quoted Trooper Renee Padgett, who developed the idea for the program. "We drive up and down the freeway every day." Padgett hopes to equip about 200 trucks with posters to help find some of the 1,700 kids who are missing on any given day in the state.

David Shapiro, spokesperson for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, added in the Times, "Putting pictures of kids on trucks is a great idea. The broader the reach, the more people who actually see this picture, the better the chance that someone will know that child, have seen that child, or know what happened to that child."

Truckers in other parts of the country have been pulled into efforts to find missing kids, including in Pennsylvania, where posters of missing children are posted in the Pennsylvania Turnpike's 21 service plazas. Truckers have also been sent child abduction Amber Alerts and asked to watch for certain cars.

Wisconsin

The United Way of Greater Milwaukee has formed a steering committee and is recruiting community members, including business representatives, to find possible solutions to the city's problem of children having children, according to The Business Journal of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee is among the 10 largest cities in the United States with the highest teen birth rate--higher than rates in Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. Nearly 17% of births in Milwaukee are to teenage mothers. The national average is 12.1%.

According to Tim Sheehy, President of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Milwaukee's high teen birth rate hurts in its competition with other cities to recruit new businesses because business executives consider the teen birth rate an indicator of work force development, social service costs, poverty, and crime.

"It is one of the statistics that challenges our ability to have a good business climate," Sheehy told the Business Journal. "We're engaged in global competition with one arm tied behind our back."

Other business-related problems cited in the Business Journal related to a high teen birth rate include the inability for businesses to expand in the Milwaukee area when there is a depleted work force, teen parents' job performance can suffer because they cannot balance parenthood and work, and lowered business productivity.


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