National News Roundup
During their 2007 session, Florida legislators passed a slew of new laws that focus on the health, safety, and development of children.
The Florida Capital News outlined the following new initiatives:
- A new 15-member children's cabinet, including Health and Children and Families Department heads and outside experts, will screen state laws and policies and make recommendations for a state strategy for improving the lives of children. "Children should be at the forefront of decisions we make," said Representative Loranne Ausley, who sponsored the bill establishing the cabinet.
- A new law will step up statewide tobacco prevention and education to prevent more young people from starting smoking. The new initiative will include counter-advertising on the dangers of smoking and a "quit line" for smokers to learn about cessation programs.
- A new law prohibits motorists from leaving children under age 6 alone in a car for more than 15 minutes. Violators will be charged with a felony if the child suffers major injury because of being left in a hot car.
- Two new laws focus on sexual predators. Under a "high-risk offenders" statute, sex offenders must have a special marking on their cars and driver's license so they can be spotted by police if they are near schools or other places from which they are prohibited. The second law updates registration criteria for sexual predators.
- An infant mortality law includes a $1 million appropriation for a study of state and local policies affecting pregnant women and newborns.
- A new law allows the Department of Children and Families to offer health and welfare services to victims of human trafficking, just as it does for victims of domestic crimes.
The Juvenile Justice Fund is creating satellite assessment centers in five counties--Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett--to help young girls who have been prostituted, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
Once the sites are chosen, the Juvenile Justice Fund, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Fulton County Juvenile Court, will train staff at hospitals and other facilities how to identify and treat minors who have been prostituted. It will also teach law enforcement officers and child protection workers how to contact the assessment centers to admit victims.
The assessment centers are funded with $140,000 earmarked by Georgia lawmakers. The Juvenile Justice Fund originally had sought $700,000 from Georgia's 2008 general budget, with the goal of opening a seven-bed regional assessment center and emergency shelter for sexually exploited children. But the funding it did receive was welcome, said Janice Barrocas, who lobbied lawmakers for the $700,000.
"The importance of these dollars is that it's the beginning of starting to address the need," she told the Journal Constitution. "You have to be able to start. So if you have to start small, we can start small."
Few places exist in Georgia to help sexually exploited youth, even though authorities say metro Atlanta is a major hub for child prostitution. Most prostituted girls wind up in youth detention centers or back on the streets.
Nevada lawmakers have fine-tuned a 2001 law so agencies can more easily understand and better serve hundreds of homeless and runaway youth under age 18.
The new law says agencies serving homeless and runaway youth need only attempt to reach a parent in order to provide help, not that the parent must be reached within a certain time. The law also defines homeless and runaway youth, making clear the kind of services that federal money should be supporting, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
Advocates who work with the teens say youth often are fleeing parents who are violent, addicted to drugs, or homeless themselves. The new law means "we'll have more time to work with them and see if we can help them," Fred Gillis, Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living, said in the Las Vegas Sun.
A study by the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth last year estimated 1,700 homeless youth lived in the Las Vegas Valley.
The New York City school system expanded its free summer meal program this past summer, handing out breakfasts and lunches for the first time in housing projects, libraries, day camps, and church groups to become one of the nation's largest summer soup kitchens, according to the New York Times.
Education Department officials expected the $23 million program to significantly exceed the summer 2006 totals of 4.4 million lunches and 2 million breakfasts, which was already well beyond the reach of other big-city public school districts such as Los Angeles, which served about 320,000 lunches and 142,000 breakfasts to students participating in summer programs last year.
"Not only will no single pantry or kitchen serve even in that ballpark, there is a good chance that even the combined 1,200 pantries and kitchens in New York City won't serve much more for children over the summer," the New York Times quoted Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
Legislators have extended the age youth can leave the foster care system from 18 to 22, provided the youth are going to school, working, or getting some type of training.
About 60 teens are expected to take advantage of the law this year, at a cost of about $700,000 in reimbursements to foster families, says Steve Dale, Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families.
"The big thing it does is allows us to change all the messages we give kids who find themselves in the foster care system," the Associated Press quoted Dale. "There's been a lot of focus on the 18th birthday for a number of years. Foster parents assume kids are going to move out. Kids think they are going to be free of these rulesOewhen, in fact, that's not what we do with our [own] kids."
Vermont is now one of nine states funding foster care beyond 18, and legislation is pending in others. Connecticut, for example, funds foster care through age 23, and New York through age 21. New legislation proposed by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California would provide federal funding to states to continue foster care through age 21.
"We think it's great, because so many kids are not prepared," CWLA spokesperson Joyce Johnson told the Associated Press, referring to the legislation. "Even kids [within their birth families] aren't necessarily ready to leave the nest when they turn 18."
Dales expects that within three years, 120 Vermont foster children will stay on in foster care, at a cost of $1.2 million.
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