Children's Voice Jan/Feb 2008

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National Newswire

Alabama

A new statewide Parenting Assistance Line, or PAL, has launched in Alabama to give parents a chance to get help without feeling ashamed or embarrassed about their parenting skills, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.

Wal-Mart, the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, and state agencies, including the Departments of Mental Health and Human Resources, are funding the toll-free line, which will operate 8:00 AM-8:00 PM, Monday-Friday, so parents can talk about their problems rather than take them out on their children.

"Yes, it's your responsibility to look after the child, but who's looking after you?" the Montgomery Advertiser quoted First Lady Patsy Riley after the hotline was launched last spring. "Now you have a confidential phone number. They can't give you a shot and all of a sudden you've got sleep again, but they can give you some great advice."

Housed at the University of Alabama's Child Development Resources, the PAL phone center employs six counselors. Although the line is meant for parents with children ages 1-12, center Director Sally Edwards says telephone operators are child development experts who can address a range of issues for children who are much older. For more information, visit www.pal.ua.edu.

Colorado

A study by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute shows that one in five Colorado families are barely getting by, often going without health care and other necessities, the Rocky Mountain News reports.

"The sheer number of families struggling was a surprise to us," the paper quoted Kathy White, who worked on the study. "Since the late 1990s, costs have started to outpace wages. Housing has skyrocketed, and child care costs continue to increase."

Many families are putting grocery and health care expenses on credit cards; as a result, health care costs are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy.

Single mothers and people of color make up a large percentage of the families barely making it in the state, but the study found most struggling households in Colorado consist of white married couples with children, and most have at least one family member who works full-time.

The study's authors said the federal poverty estimate is outmoded and based only on the cost of food, so they used a "self-sufficiency standard," factoring in costs for housing, child care, health care, transportation, and other expenses. The study determined that most struggling Colorado families make too much money to qualify for most government programs.

A group of Colorado-based foundations supported the study, including the Denver Foundation, the Chambers Family Fund, the Women's Foundation of Colorado, and the Mile High United Way.

Maine

For more than five decades, Maine has followed a law stating that records of all adoptions finalized on or after August 8, 1953 are confidential unless a probate court judge rules otherwise. Many adoptees, as a result, have birth certificates that list their adoptive parents' names only.

This cloak of confidentiality will be raised on January 1, 2009, when a new law takes effect that will allow adoptees 18 or older who were born in Maine to have copies of their original birth certificates. The certificates will bear the names of their birth mothers, and, in some cases, their birth fathers, according to the Portland Press Herald.

A grassroots group made up of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, who called themselves Original Birth Certificates for Maine, pushed the bipartisan legislation for three years. "The document provides adoptees with the truth needed for optimal personal development and the freedom to marry without concern of committing incest," the group stated in a news release.

Opponents to the new law included the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which claimed releasing the birth records to adoptees would violate the privacy of mothers who were promised their identities would not be disclosed, according to the Press Herald. The new law, however, allows birth parents to file a confidential form with the State Registrar of Vital Statistics that states whether they want to be contacted by the adoptee if the adoptee chooses to search for them.

Massachusetts

Governor Deval Patrick recently made permanent the state's Baby Safe Haven Law, allowing a safe alternative for mothers who might otherwise abandon their babies. The law, passed in 2004, was set to expire this year, according to the Boston Globe.

"The Baby Safe Haven Law saves lives," Angelo McClain, Commissioner of the Department of Socials Services, said in a statement. "By making this important piece of legislation permanent, Massachusetts offers parents a safe alternative and helps protect babies from abuse and neglect. DSS enthusiastically supports the law, and we are pleased to see it extended."

Under the law, parents can surrender a newborn 7 days old or younger to a predetermined Baby Safe Haven, including hospitals, police stations, and manned fire stations, without the threat of incarceration. DSS officials say six babies have been safely surrendered since the law's inception.

DSS takes immediate custody of a surrendered child and, after medical screening, the child is placed in a preadoptive home, allowing for the newborns to have the best chance of staying with one family, as opposed to placement in a foster home, says DSS spokesperson Denise Monteiro.

In addition to easing the surrender of children, the law provides for information to expectant mothers, including a Baby Safe Haven Hotline. Thirty-five mothers have developed a successful pregnancy plan through the hotline, ensuring their newborns were not abandoned, DSS officials say. "We have the services out there; we just need to connect the expecting mothers to the service," Monteiro told the Globe.

Missouri

Missouri has passed a new law dropping the maximum age for child support from 22 to 21, as well as setting new academic standards for students whose parents receive child support. The law has stirred debate within the state.

Critics say the original law set the age at 22 because it is the traditional age for college completion. They say dropping the age to 21 could jeopardize college students' senior years, cause more conflict between divorced parents, and flood the courts with litigation, the Kansas City Star reports. The new law cuts off child support for 3,200 current college students over age 21 and will affect thousands more in the future, a state official told the Star.

State Representative Brian Baker (R) pushed for the change in the law, originally proposing the age limit be set at 18 -- the age when people can first vote, and the age at which most states draw the line for child support. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 38 states terminate child support at age 18 or at high school graduation. Massachusetts and Hawaii have the highest cut-off age at 23.

The new law also allows a parent to stop paying child support when a full-time college student receives two failing grades in half or more of his or her course load in any one semester.

New York

A report released last summer by New York City investigators said the city's child welfare agency received warnings that several children -- who eventually died in care -- were in danger, but never fully acted on them, according to the New York Times.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the review after 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown was beaten to death in a Brooklyn apartment in January 2006. Since this case and the cases of at least 10 other children who died or nearly died were examined in the report, the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) has fired or disciplined 14 caseworkers who were involved in those cases; instituted ChildStat, a case review system; and increased the number of child protective caseworkers by 400, reducing the average caseload to 11 per caseworker, compared with an average of 21 in March 2006, the Times reports.

Following its review, the city's Department of Investigation and Children's Services released a 141-page report containing 20 recommendations for the agency's improvement, including hiring 100 investigators to consult with caseworkers. ACS Commissioner John Mattingly said many of the recommendations are already underway.

"This report is a big step forward in strengthening our ongoing reforms to improve child protective investigations," Mattingly said in a statement. "The recommendation to hire 100 more experienced law enforcement consultants will mean many more of our caseworkers will get the support, guidance, and training they need to conduct thorough investigations."


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