Children's Voice September/October 2008

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Nebraska

Earlier this year, the Lincoln Journal Star reviewed a report from Nebraska's Foster Care Review Board that said the state had experienced a 16.4% drop in the number of children in foster care from 2005 to 2006. Adoptions were up in 2006, growing to 423 from 347 the year before.

"We're heading in the right direction," said Todd Landry, director of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) division of children and family services, according to the article.

Still, the report found room for improvement; it recommended reducing workloads and increasing pay for caseworkers, as well as creating an oversight system for contracts HHS makes with outside companies for foster care services. Landry explained that contractors transport children, supervise visits, and provide foster care management, and HHS contracts require background checks, driver's license checks, and periodic audits, but he accepted the board's additional recommendations. "We're always looking to continuously improve the process," the Journal Star quoted him.

The board's report also cited high numbers of children with several placements, the Journal Star continued. In 2006, more than half the children in foster care were moved more than four times, which included almost 21% with 6-10 placements and another 16% with 11 or more placements. Board member Georgie Scurfield explained the consequences of multiple placements, the Journal Star said: It changes relationships between children and caseworkers, delays cases in the judicial system, and breaks down the lines of communication among parents, foster parents, service providers, and therapists.

To read the report, visit www.fcrb.state.ne.us.

New York

As students head back to class this fall, the new Mott Haven Academy Charter School was slated to open its doors in the Bronx. The school aims to make improvements in two New York City systems-public education and child welfare. According to New York press reports, two-thirds of the school's population will be children involved in the welfare system. This year, the school planned to open in a temporary facility with approximately 90 students in kindergarten and first grade, adding another grade each year until it serves students K-8.

The New York Foundling, a CWLA member, is sponsoring the school. "We've been frustrated over the years by the failure of the public school system to appropriately serve the population we serve," the New York Daily News quoted Foundling executive director William Baccaglini. The Daily News report continued that Baccaglini said abuse, neglect, and other physical and emotional problems in the children's past compounded difficulties at school. "All these issues have been an impediment to these kids prospering in the public school system," he said, according to the Daily News. "Haven Academy is an attempt to remediate those issues."

When construction finishes in two years, Mott Haven Academy will move to its permanent home, a $30 million facility in the South Bronx, which will have one wing for teachers and another for caseworkers, according to The New York Sun. Services for children and their families will literally be under one roof, giving them an opportunity to communicate better with each other while at the same time being able to concentrate on their primary roles; teachers can focus on academics and caseworkers will help with extracurricular issues.

The Sun reported Jessica Nauiokas, a former teacher and assistant principal, would be Mott Haven Academy's founding principal. Learn more about the school.

Virginia

Governor Tim Kaine (D) created an Office of Early Childhood Development in an effort to coordinate and expand access to Virginia's development programs for early childhood, birth to age 5. In April, Kaine announced Kathy Glazer would head the new office. According to a press release from the governor's staff, Glazer's background includes leading the Working Group on Early Childhood Initiatives within the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and serving as Early Childhood Initiatives Director at the Department of Social Services (VDSS).

Glazer's responsibilities include coordinating programs for young children, including the Virginia Preschool Initiative, Head State, child care subsidies, provider services, and other state efforts to improve early childhood development and learning. "By focusing on the education and well-being of our youngest citizens, we do much to ensure the continued strength of our communities, workforce, and economy," VDSS Commissioner Anthony Conyers Jr. said in a press release.

The new office, which was beginning work by early July, is an interdepartmental project; Glazer will report to both VDOE and VDSS, and staff from both departments will be part of the Early Childhood Development team, in addition to a liaison to the Virginia Department of Health.

West Virginia

"We have so many people uninsured and we have so many kids with obesity and Type 2 diabetes," West Virginia's Governor Joe Manchin said, according to an Associated Press report in Huntington's The Herald-Dispatch. "With all the money we're spending, why are we not doing more for preventive care?"

The state is trying to do more with preventive care starting this school year with Kids First, a new program of health screenings for uninsured children. Approximately 20,000 children enter kindergarten in West Virginia each year, and all are required to pass a minimal health screening before starting school, according to the AP report.

Manchin wants every child to have a full physical exam performed by local physicians or other qualified health care providers. The screenings taking place this fall cover vision, hearing, speech, language, growth, and development, and will be provided to about 1,100 children, at a cost of around $160,000. The money is coming from the nationwide $43.7 million State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which covers about 39,000 children in West Virginia, the AP reported. About $35.5 million of the SCHIP funding is federal money, and because West Virginia's screening program is the first of its kind, it needed-and received-federal approval.

"This is a good use of those dollars," Manchin said, according to the article. "We're not afraid to get out there and do something different." Federal Medicaid spokeswoman Mary Kahn agreed that Kids First was worth funding. "My guess is other states are waiting to see how this goes," she told the AP. "The merits are obvious. Doing a good, solid health screening on a child before they enter kindergarten has multiple benefits."

Manchin and his administration hope one of the benefits may be a lesson on living healthy that children can take home with them. "Kindergarten is a point where parents meet up with government," the AP quoted Melanie Purkey, director of student services and health promotion with the West Virginia Office of Healthy Schools. "We can use that coming-together to benefit not just the students but also their families." The AP article said Manchin may look at expanding the program to give health checks to second, fifth, and eighth grade students, so they can catch chronic problems before they begin.

Visit www.wvkidsfirst.org for more on the program.


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