Children's Voice July/August 2007

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National News Roundup

Indiana

The Indiana State Child Fatality Review Team--an unfunded, all-volunteer unit--issued a report earlier this year calling for better cooperation among public agencies and more consistency in the investigation and tracking of deaths.

The independent team closely examined 57 child abuse and neglect deaths identified by the Department of Child Services in the state's 2005 fiscal year. The team's report recommended ways to address abuse and neglect deaths, as well as deaths from accidents, including drowning, improper use of car seats, and unsafe sleeping situations.

"Until we improve the way all child deaths are investigated and reviewed, we'll never truly understand why kids are dying, or what can be done to save them," Antoinette Laskey, a forensic pediatrician who leads the state team, told the Indianapolis Star.

National statistics show Indiana has the country's highest per capita rate of child abuse and neglect deaths, and it leads the nation in preventable deaths among children younger than 1 year, according to the Star.

In its report, the Child Fatality Review Team focuses on four areas where prevention could help in deaths like the 57 they examined--blunt-force head trauma, drowning, unsafe sleeping, and motor vehicle accidents.

Most abuse deaths studied in the report were due to blunt-force head trauma--17 in all--and the report stressed, "It is never acceptable to shake a baby." Providing certified flotation devices for children playing around water, and vigilant adult supervision, could have prevented the seven drowning deaths in 2005, the report noted. Regarding the deaths due to unsafe sleeping, many could have been prevented if the baby had been sleeping in a crib, not with an adult, according to the report. And to address traffic accident deaths, the team urged the use of correctly installed car seats at all times.

Iowa

Governor Chet Culver (D) signed the state's School Anti-Bullying and Anti-Harassment Act into law last March, outlawing bullying, including harassment through e-mail and text messages, in all public schools and accredited private schools.

The new law requires schools to have procedures in place by September 1 for reporting an act of harassment or bullying, as well as for collecting harassment and bullying incidence data, and determining sanctions that can be enforced after confirmed incidents.

According to the Des Moines Register, the law defines bullying as any conduct toward a student, based on any actual or perceived trait, that creates a hostile school environment, places the student in reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or property, has a substantially detrimental effect on his or her physical or mental health, substantially interferes with his or her academic performance, or substantially interferes with the student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

The law defines cyberbullying as bullying via electronic communications, including e-mail, pager, cell phones, text messages, and Internet-based communications.

New Jersey

New Jersey's child welfare system met and, in some instances exceeded, court-mandated goals from July through December 2006 for fixing its system, according to a report issued last winter by the Center for the Study of Social Policy in Washington, DC.

"New Jersey is finally on a positive path toward reforming the way it delivers child welfare services to children and families," the report states.

Susan Lambiase, Associate Director of Children's Rights, a New York advocacy group that sued New Jersey in 2005 over its malfunctioning child welfare system, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "It shows child welfare can be fixed if there are three things--good management, sufficient resources, and commitment to change--and those things do exist now in New Jersey."

After a court settlement was reached in the Children's Rights case, Governor Jon Corzine (D) removed the Division of Youth and Family Services from the Department of Human Services, and put former state child advocate Kevin Ryan at the helm.

The report from the Center for the Study of Social Policy found that 1,387 children under the state's care were adopted in 2006--more than the target of 1,100, but less than the 1,418 adoptions in 2004. It also cited other changes, including increased training for staff, better case tracking, higher staff retention, more children placed out of detention facilities, and reduced worker caseloads.


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