Children's Voice May/June 2007

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National News Roundup

Connecticut

A group of state agencies and representatives from the United Way and the University of Connecticut School of Social Work have agreed to work on developing legislative proposals and a bill of rights for children of incarcerated parents.

In Hartford alone, about 1 in 6 children in the city, or 4,500-6,000 children, have at least one parent in a state prison, but the state has no real hard numbers on such children, according to the Hartford Courant.

"Children of prisoners are often invisible and overlooked," the Courant quoted Susan Quinlan, Executive Director of Families in Crisis, which works with families of incarcerated parents. "We as a community need to respond to that."

The Courant outlined a few of the guiding principals the group is following in its work:
  • Children of prisoners should receive counseling to help them deal with loss, trauma, and stigma.
  • Children of prisoners should receive transportation to visit their incarcerated parents.
  • Police should follow a protocol to lessen the trauma children experience when they're present during a parent's arrest.
  • Children should be allowed to speak with their parents following an arrest so the parent can explain what has happened.
  • Children should have a say in where they will be placed following a parent's arrest, if the parent is their caregiver.

Florida

A West Palm Beach appeals court ruled in November the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) must pay an abused girl $26.8 million in damages--the highest sum ever awarded to a victim of negligence by the state's social service agency. The ruling upholds a 2005 Palm Beach County jury verdict, the Miami Herald reports.

Marissa Amora, who is now 8, suffered near fatal brain injuries after her mother's boyfriend savagely beat her in 2001. The girl is now fed through a tube.

According to the Herald, Marissa first came to DCF's attention in December 2000 by staff at Miami Children's Hospital, where she was receiving care for a spinal tumor. Doctors discovered the girl had a broken collarbone, but her mother could offer no explanation. Despite hospital social workers expressing concern that Marissa was not safe at home, DCF released the girl to her mother on December 15, 2000. Marissa was beaten on January 11, 2001.

"Had DCF adequately and reasonably investigated the matter involving Marissa, the abuse to Marissa would not have occurred," the three-judge appeals court panel opinion stated. "Her injuries will require her dependency on caregivers for the rest of her life."

Before Marissa can collect the money from DCF, Florida's lawmakers must support the claims bill in the state legislature. Under Florida law, the state cannot pay more than $100,000 in damages without the approval of lawmakers.

Last January, DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth decided not to appeal the court decision. "The Secretary believes there are no grounds for an appeal and that to file an appeal would not be in the best interest of Marissa, Marissa's family, or the department," said DCF spokesperson Al Zimmerman.

Hawaii

A new report from the Department of Human Services and the University of Hawaii's Center on the Family provides the first detailed demographic look at Hawaii's homeless population served by state-funded services.

Of the 5,600 residents who lived in shelters throughout the Islands between July 2004 and June 2005, 1,800 were children age 17 or younger, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. During that time, nearly 1,000 children received state-funded outreach services provided for people who are homeless but do not stay in shelters.

The state is grappling with a growing homeless problem that is straining schools, the health care system, and other government and private services, especially along the Wai'anae Coast, the Advertiser reports. Rising rent is worsening the situation and forcing more families onto the beaches.

The study is the first since 2003 to look at demographic data on homeless children statewide. Earlier statistics were based on a sampling of the homeless population, and some have questioned the accuracy of the earlier numbers, which revealed that 15% of the state's homeless were children, the Advertiser reports. The latest report examines the actual number of homeless served by state-funded programs.

New York

Compared with a decade ago, more New York City schoolgirls are winding up in juvenile detention, while crime among boys is dropping, according to a report from the Citizens' Committee for Children (CCC).

In 2005, 1,037 girls younger than 16 were admitted to city detention facilities, compared with 772 in 1992--a 34.3% increase. At the same time, the number of boys entering the city's Department of Juvenile Justice fell 30%, from 5,769 to 4,023.

Experts blame the spike on many different factors, according to the New York Daily News, including increases in family violence and female aggression, violent images in the media, and a greater willingness than in the past among authorities and parents to prosecute young females.

The CCC report calls the increase in young female criminals a "quiet crisis" and recommends officials collect more data on the girls.

"There is a lot of victimization leading to this," the Daily News quoted CCC's leader, Gail Nayowith. "Whether physical, sexual, or emotional, [it] can sometimes be the first step to lead them to delinquency."

Herbert Mandell, Medical Director for KidsPeace, blames a breakdown in community and home-based supports. "Girls just aren't getting the kind of protection from dad, older brothers, siblings, and schools as they used to, and that's very sad," he told the Daily News.

Rhode Island

In a letter to their boss last fall, 21 casework supervisors for the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) said the state needs to reduce "unmanageable" caseloads to ensure children's safety in state custody or under state supervision.

"This letter serves to inform you that despite our extraordinary efforts, we are unable to achieve compliance with departmental policy under the current, unmanageable caseload and workload conditions," the supervisors told DCYF Director Patricia Martinez. "It is critical for the safety and well-being of the children and families we serve to reduce caseloads in Family Services to ensure compliance with agency policy and best practices."

The letter was written shortly after state child advocate Jametta Alston released a report claiming DCYF had failed to implement some of the changes called for by a review panel following the beating death of Thomas J. "T.J." Wright while he was under state custody two years ago, according to the Providence Journal.

Alston's report accused the state of not holding caseloads to the recommended average of 14 families per caseworker.

As of September 4, caseload sizes ranged from 16.43 in Kent and Washington Counties, to 20.04 in parts of Providence County, the Journal reported.

Martinez told the Journal, "I, too, am very concerned with the caseloads, and that is why I continue to engage in conversations with frontline staff to come up with a strategy to improve practice and manage cases."

Martinez went on to say the department is working on long- and short-term solutions, including hiring 22 child-support technicians in 2005 to help with transporting children to lessen the burden on social workers, and compensating foster parents for transporting children to appointments and hearings.

Caseload averages were down in June 2006 after the state hired 74 social workers, Martinez told the Journal, but caseloads rose again after 38 social workers retired or quit.

South Carolina

A new state law requires South Carolina's 85 school districts to adopt an antibullying policy and outline procedures to track and punish such behavior, beginning this year, according to The State.

The Safe School Climate Act directs schools to track intimidation or incidents where students inflict emotional pain on another student, including through cyberbullying via computers and cell phones.

The act defines bullying as a gesture, electronic communication, or written, verbal, physical, or sexual act that will harm a student physically or emotionally, damage a student's property, place a student in fear of personal harm or property damage, or insult or demean a student or group of students, causing substantial school disruptions.

Many schools have come up with creative ways to deal with bullying, according to The State, including posting "bully boxes" where students can submit anonymous tips, having guidance counselors visit classrooms to talk to students about respecting their peers, and forming student clubs, such as one called Bully Busters, to empower students to feel good about doing what's right.

Washington

New state policy requiring faster responses to reports of child abuse have reduced repeated maltreatment in the state, according to The Olympian.

A Children's Administration report concludes that reacting to emergency abuse calls within 24 hours, and to less urgent calls within three days, protected 195 additional children from being abused again--a 3% reduction overall in substantiated abuse cases. The old state policy allowed 10 days to respond to nonemergency calls.

Director Cheryl Stephani was charged with improving the agency's management in April 2005 when it had to lay off staff after the budget was overspent by $12 million. Faster response times for emergency reports of abuse were enacted the same month, and the 72-hour response in August of that year, according to The Olympian.

The state's legislature gave $5.8 million to the agency this year to hire 200 more caseworkers and construct a new case management computer. The additional staff were not hired during the period of the repeat abuse study.

"I think it is important to note that staff did this without additional resources," The Olympian quoted Stephani. "I will tell you it did stress our staff capacity. There were shifts to frontline intervention. Now, as the new additional resources in staff is coming on, they will be able to fill in some."


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