Children's Voice September/October 2007

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Tell a Foster Youth Heading to College You Care

Leaving high school and starting college or trade school is often a tough emotional transition for young people. When life in the dorm gets lonely, phone calls home to friends and family can be a source of comfort. Kids in foster care, unfortunately, don't always have someone to call and can end up feeling more alone than ever.

Sponsoring a care package through the Orphan Foundation of America's (OFA) Care Package Program is one way to help. The packages, accompanied by a handwritten note, contain necessities and small luxuries, including backpacks, computer software, back-to-school supplies, cookies, and snacks.

Each year, more than 25,000 youth age out of foster care. Last year, OFA sent 7,500 packages to youth in care in all 50 states.

Individuals, community groups, or companies can participate. For more information about the program, visit www.orphan.org, call 571/203-0270, or e-mail aja@orphan.org.

2005's Sobering Statistics

Child Maltreatment 2005, a compendium of data collected through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System and released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicates 899,000 children were abused and neglected in federal fiscal year 2005, and 1,460 died as a result.

The figure represents a victimization rate of 12.1 per 1,000 children, a slightly higher rate compared with the numbers reported in 2004, due to the inclusion of data from Alaska and Puerto Rico. The rate of victimization and the numbers of victims had been on the decline during the prior five years.

Allegations of child maltreatment numbered 3.3 million in 2005, and approximately 25% of reports involved substantiated claims of abuse. The rate of investigation increased from 47.8 per 1,000 children in 2004, to 48.3 in 2005. Sixty percent of children who were substantiated as abused and neglected received services.

Of the children who were abused and neglected in 2005, 62.8% experienced neglect, 16.6% were physically abused, and 9.3% were sexually abused. A little over half were age 7 or younger.

Guardianship Plans Needed for Children of HIV-Positive Parents

Few HIV-positive parents who are unmarried have made legal arrangements regarding the care of their children in their absence, according to a study by RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

Out of 222 people with a total of 391 children, only 28% had prepared legal documentation of their guardianship choice, the study found. Of the others, 12% had not identified a guardian for their children, 6% had identified a guardian but hadn't discussed their preference with the guardian, and 53% percent said the guardian had agreed to be the guardian.

The study also found that the HIV-infected parents who were in poor health or who didn't live with other adults were more likely to have guardianship plans. The age of their children had no effect on the degree to which guardianship arrangements were completed.

Having a legal guardian in place is important for children of parents with HIV and AIDS. When a parent dies, a guardianship plan can lessen trauma for the children because it reduces the possibility of sibling separation or spending time in foster care. Though many parents assume the legal system will place children with relatives, or whoever has agreed to be the guardian, there are no guarantees without legal documentation.

"Ideally, we hope our findings will make physicians, especially pediatricians treating children who have HIV-positive parents, more aware of the guardianship issue and more likely to talk to parents about the importance of making formal arrangements," says Burton Cowgill, the study's lead author.

Study Gauges Benefits of Volunteering for Disadvantaged Youth

A federal study, Leveling the Path to Participation: Volunteering and Civic Engagement Among Youth from Disadvantaged Circumstances, has found that 43% of youth from disadvantaged circumstances volunteer, compared with 59% of other youth.

The study, conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, shows that teens from low-income backgrounds who do volunteer reap positive benefits: They are more likely to believe they can make a difference in their communities, engage in political conversation, and aspire to attend college.

Youth experts have long believed that the act of serving others can build confidence, a sense of responsibility, and social connectedness that benefits both volunteer and community. The study confirmed that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who volunteer demonstrated more positive civic attitudes and behaviors than did youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who did not volunteer. They were more likely to believe they could make a difference in their community, and that they would graduate from a four-year college. The youth were also twice as likely to discuss politics with their parents, other adults, and friends, and were 3.5 times more likely to say they would volunteer in the next year.

The study found disadvantaged youth were more likely to volunteer with religious organizations and less likely to volunteer with youth civic or leadership groups, suggesting that religious organizations were an important means through which to get these youth involved in volunteering. Schools were also found to be a driving force in volunteerism, with youth most likely to volunteer if asked to do so by a teacher. The study also found disadvantaged youth were much more likely to volunteer to gain work experience.

In addition to its study, the corporation released a five-year strategic plan in 2006 that set a national goal of engaging more than 3 million youth from disadvantaged circumstances in service by the year 2010. In addition to emphasizing this goal in grants and program guidelines, the agency is launching Summer of Service, a new initiative to engage youth, particularly those from disadvantaged circumstances, in quality, service-related activity during the summer months.

Link Found Between Military Deployment and Child Abuse

Past studies have linked military deployment to higher divorce rates and spousal violence, but a study published in the May 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology is the first to suggest a link to child abuse, according to USA Today.

The study, conducted between 2002 and 2003, found that when main troop deployments to Iraq began, reports of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and child neglect among military families jumped from 5 in 1,000 children, to 10 in 1,000.

"Among military personnel with at least one dependent, the rate of child maltreatment in military families increased by approximately 30% for each 1% increase in the percentage of active-duty personnel departing to or returning from operation-related deployment," according to the study, which looked at data from Texas, where many military installations are located.

Army spokesperson Paul Boyce told USA Today that much has improved since the study, such as support programs in medicine, counseling, and schools. At Fort Hood, Texas, for example, home to about 70,000 military family members, the post is now working with the Military Child Education Coalition to improve community involvement with military families.

Georgetown University Opens New Center for Juvenile Justice

After seven years as CWLA's CEO, Shay Bilchik is taking on a new role as Director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and Systems Integration at Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI). The new center will provide educational opportunities, encourage an open dialogue about issues related to juvenile justice reform, and sponsor academic programs and forums for government leaders.

Before his tenure at CWLA, Bilchik was the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention under President Clinton. He also worked as an assistant state attorney in Florida for 16 years.

In addition to sponsoring workshops and publishing research, the center will partner with the GPPI Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership to offer a program for public agency leaders, which will focus on leading systems change and reform efforts.

"The center will serve the vital role of connecting key leaders across the country to the increasing amount of rigorous research and data that exists on what works to reduce juvenile crime," Bilchik says. "The ultimate benefit of the center will be to help develop a stronger set of leaders in juvenile justice and related systems of care."
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