Children's Voice September/October 2007

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National News Roundup

Iowa

A new law took effect this past summer giving Iowa children in foster care the right to visit their siblings.

"This bill reflects our Iowa values that family is important, even in a situation where children are separated from each other," said Governor Chet Culver when he signed the bill into law earlier this year.

The new law specifically requires the state's Department of Human Services to make "a reasonable effort" to provide siblings visitation with each other if there is no choice but to send them to separate foster homes, according to the Des Moines Register.

Groups that backed the law's passage included Children and Families of Iowa and the Middleton Center for Children's Rights at Drake University.

About 5,000 children in foster care live in Iowa.

Kansas

Kansas is pushing to improve its early childhood education efforts after a statewide study released last year found more than half of Kansan children start kindergarten unprepared to learn, according to the Wichita Eagle.

A recent report from Education Week also ranked Kansas among the lowest in the country in per capita spending on early childhood programs. New Jersey, for example, provided more than $9,000 per child in 2005, but Kansas spent less than $2,000. Nationwide, the average per capita spending on preschoolers is $3,551.

As a result, Governor Kathleen Sebelius has instituted a $2 million pre-K pilot initiative that will serve 600 children in six counties. In addition, the Kansas Health Foundation is launching a statewide television and radio campaign focused on the benefits of early childhood education for all children, and Wichita CARES (Children Able to Read Excel in School), a partnership of school and health officials, is serving almost twice the number of children as originally planned.

"The whole landscape around early childhood education is changing," said Janice Suzanne Smith, Executive Director of the Opportunity Project, a state early education program, in the Wichita Eagle. "It kind of gives me chills. I think 2007 is going to be an exciting year."

Kentucky

Commonwealth officials announced last spring they have adopted new child welfare practices in response to widespread criticism of foster care adoptions in the state, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Under the new practices, social workers are trying harder to place children with extended family members before they turn to nonrelative foster parents, and they are telling birth parents, in clear terms and in writing, that they could lose their children to adoption if their children are placed in foster care.

"We've identified these opportunities for improvement with the expectation they will mean more equitable results for birth parents," Health and Family Services Secretary Mark Birdwhistell told the Herald-Leader.

Two Kentucky child advocacy groups released a report in January 2006 that raised the possibility the Cabinet for Health and Family Services was removing children inappropriately under a new federal law passed in the late 1990s. The law directs social workers to find prospective adoptive parents for children soon after they are placed in foster care, and allows courts to terminate parental rights more quickly than in the past.

Also in response to the scrutiny, State Chief Justice Joseph Lambert organized the first-ever Kentucky Summit on Children recently in Louisville. Judges, lawyers, lawmakers, and court and child welfare professionals convened to study the issue of fast-tracking state adoptions versus children lingering in foster care, and administrative procedures that will help prevent juvenile delinquency and child maltreatment.

Lambert is also hosting regional meetings throughout Kentucky to examine how to improve the court system's handling of children's issues. Lambert told the Herald-Leader he would approve changes to the courts and child welfare system in June 2008.

Louisiana

The state Department of Health and Hospitals organized an "outreach blitz" last spring in the New Orleans area in an effort to find thousands of children who qualify for public health insurance but have managed to elude social workers, physicians, and school nurses, the Times-Picayune reports.

Before Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 16,000 children in the metro area were eligible for insurance but not enrolled. After the storm, almost 68,000 children in greater New Orleans lost their health coverage when their parents changed jobs or let a government-sponsored policy lapse as they moved around during the evacuation.

"Mailing addresses have changed, mail delivery is delayed, and families have been unsure of where to go or who to contact," Ruth Kennedy, Director of the Louisiana Children's Health Insurance Program (LaCHIP), told the Times-Picayune. "They were unable to renew and keep their coverage."

Staff and volunteers from the Agenda for Children, the Children's Defense Fund, Kingsley House, Tulane Medical School, and other groups set up tables at pharmacies, health clinics, and churches around the city to snag children who qualified for either Medicaid or LaCHIP.

Enrolling teenagers in the free public insurance programs has become particularly difficult since Katrina because many youth are living on their own in New Orleans while their parents remain in other cities, Kennedy said. As a result, Kennedy has instituted a policy change allowing these teenagers to enroll themselves in LaCHIP without a guardian's signature if they are taking care of themselves.

Mississippi

Mississippi's infant mortality rate--already the highest in the nation--rose dramatically between 2004 and 2005, from 9.7 to 11.4, the Clarion Ledger reported after requesting the information from the state's Department of Health.

According to the National Vital Statistics Report, the national average infant mortality rate is 6.8. The state with the next highest infant death rate is Louisiana at 9.7.

Jeanne Luckett, former chair of the state's Infant Mortality Task Force, called the increase an "incredible jump." State lawmakers disbanded the task force last year. "It's sad to see," Luckett told the Clarion Ledger. "Infant mortality is one of the most basic indicators of well-being in the state."

State Senator John Horhn, who serves on the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare, said, "Somebody's taking their eye off the ball," noting Mississippi has made progress in the past to reduce infant deaths.

When the Clarion Ledger published its news story in January, the Department of Health had not publicized the infant mortality rise. Claude Earl Fox, former Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of Health, who worked 13 years at Mississippi's Health Department, told the paper he questioned the silence. "It's not just publicizing the matter," he said. "The end result is you are better able to address the problems."

According to the Clarion Ledger, the Alabama Department of Health issued news releases and a publication detailing its infant mortality rate increase from 8.7 to 9.3 in 2005. Tennessee, which also saw an increase in its rate from 8.5 to 9.0, issued a special report on infant mortality, with a goal of reducing the infant mortality rate to 7.0 by 2010.


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