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World headlines news relating to children, youth and families

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20 APRIL

USA: Top child welfare organizations stand in opposition to dangerous anti-LGBTQ legislation in Oklahoma 

Some of the country’s top child welfare organizations joined the opposition to the anti-LGBTQ bill SB 1140, which is currently under consideration in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The following parties joined a letter explaining their reasons for opposing the legislation: the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom Oklahoma, the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the National Center for Adoption and Permanency, Foster Club, and Voice For Adoption. SB 1140 would allow child welfare organizations – including adoption and foster care agencies – to turn away qualified Oklahomans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection. “The organizations that have joined HRC and Freedom Oklahoma in opposing this anti-LGBTQ bill are among the most recognizable names in foster care and adoption in the United States,” said Ellen Kahn, Director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Children, Youth & Families Program. “This bill is patently discriminatory and it is not supported by organizations actually working in the child welfare space. HRC and each of the signatories on this letter hope that the Oklahoma House of Representatives will listen to the voices of the people working on these issues, not those who would seek to discriminate against potential parents based on who they are.”

South Africa: Long awaited children’s commissioner on the cards for Western Cape

In a victory for civil society, and for the first time since the dawn of democracy, the Western Cape could soon have its own children’s commissioner. But tedious legislative processes have raised the ire of child rights groups who believe the appointment of a children’s commissioner is long overdue. After taking office in 2009, Premier Helen Zille’s promise of a children’s commissioner could finally become a reality in the next year or two if there are no delays with legislative processes. Calls for a commissioner erupted last year when 66 children were killed in Cape Town. The Commissioner for Children is duty-bound to report to the Provincial Legislature annually on measures taken by the provincial government to protect and promote the interests of children in the Western Cape. The office has the power, as regulated by provincial legislation, to fulfil this function through monitoring, investigating, researching, educating, lobbying, advising and reporting on issues relating to children. Ammaarah Kamish, director for policy development, research and analysis in Zille’s department, said the provincial government plans to finalise the draft bill at the end of the month. By next month, the provincial government aims to obtain cabinet approval so that it can be introduced in the Western Cape Legislature. Dependent on the legislature’s time frames, the bill will be approved and the process to appoint a commissioner can begin. The appointment of the commissioner will also be dependent on time frames influenced by the legislature. The set-up of the offices of the commissioner, from the date of publication of the act, will take six months to a year.

Ireland: Childhood obesity greatest threat to health of young people

The Irish Heart Foundation has described childhood obesity as the greatest single threat to the health of this generation of children and young people. Head of Advocacy for the IHF Chris Macey told the Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs that State funded research shows 85,000 children on the island of Ireland will die prematurely due to overweight and obesity. He said there is already evidence that something catastrophic is happening and children as young as eight are already presenting with high blood pressure. Mr Macey said that young people are showing signs of heart disease, which used to be seen only in middle aged people. He said there is a new phenomenon of children in disadvantaged areas who are simultaneously obese and malnourished. The committee was told that the IHF's submission today is focusing on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children as this is a key driver in this area.

UK: We are not a number, say care leavers in new social campaign film

The experiences of young York people who have left care are to be captured on film as part of York Mediale. The new media arts festival is collaborating with local social campaigning organisation Inspired Youth in a project to bring the youngsters’ personal experiences to life. The One Percent is the working title of the project, which will see filmmaker Kev Curran and York-based Hip Hop artist Kritikal Powers encourage young people to share and express their experiences through film and music, said a spokesman. “They will bring together a group of ten young people from the city, who have recently left care, or who are currently moving towards independent living, to create spoken word performances on film, bringing their personal experiences to life. The results of the project will be showcased for the first time during York Mediale in the autumn, alongside a debate about what more can be done both nationally and locally to support young people more effectively during times of big life change.” He said the One Per Cent referred to a national statistic that about one per cent of children were looked after by the care system, which equated in York to about 200 children and young people in care. “This one percent of children is then often compared unfavourably to the remaining 99 per cent, with statistics showing lower academic achievement rates, and higher incidence of criminal convictions and drug use.” Kev Curran said these figures risked becoming self-fulfilling prophecies by putting limitations on what young people believed they could achieve. He said it was crucial decision-makers heard an undiluted version of their views.

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18 APRIL

UK: Early intervention initiative set to expand

A national task force is to expand its efforts to help local authorities, charities and funders intervene early to avoid children and young people experiencing a range of social problems. The Early Action Task Force is to train small voluntary groups in early intervention approaches. As part of the expansion, the Early Action Task Force will increase the support it gives to organisations across the UK to deliver preventative services to under-18s. Measures include training on early intervention approaches for small voluntary groups, and more research into ways to avert mental ill-health, housing difficulties and unemployment. The task force will also carry out an audit of its 650-plus member organisations to find ways to better involve them in early intervention work with children, young people and adults. The expansion is being paid for by a £480,000 Big Lottery Fund grant to Community Links, the charity behind the task force. David Robinson, chair of the task force, said the three-year grant will help embed preventative work across the country: "Thanks to this National Lottery grant, we can take early action from common sense to common practice. It's hard for charity leaders to find the time to think preventatively when we're battling to tackle increasingly complex social issues. But it is precisely because frontline needs have become more complex that we need to think preventatively."

Canada: Yukon policy negates locking out youth

Officials with the Department of Health and Social Services broke their silence on the subject of Yukon government group homes Friday when they hosted a media briefing about Transitional Support Services (TSS) for children and youth in government care. CBC reporter Nancy Thomson broke the first of a series of stories about youth and staff allegations of wrongdoing in the Yukon government group home system last month. Since then, the department has declined comment to media outlets on the topic – deferring to Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost. Leeann Kayseas, the acting manager of Family Services, told reporters at the Friday briefing that under no circumstances would a young person in a Yukon government group home be locked out. There is also a 24-hour on-call line offered through the department that youth can call, or have someone call for them, if they ever feel they can’t go home, Kayseas said, that would make alternate arrangements for that youth. An “extensive internal review” is now being undertaken, Stephen Samis, Health and Social Services’ deputy minister said. The department is pulling every single incident report from the last three years. Officials are going through each one, assessing what the incidents were, how they were followed-up on, and what the eventual outcomes looked like.

USA: Texas foster care system has high teen pregnancy rate

Teen girls in Texas foster care are almost five times more likely to become pregnant than other teens, according to a new study. The “Fostering Healthy Texas Lives” report says the high pregnancy rate is jeopardizing teens’ health and education and puts them at high risk of having their baby removed by Child Protective Services. Kate Murphy, senior child welfare policy associate at Texans Care for Children, says their research discovered several factors that put young girls in foster care at a higher risk. “Youth in foster care move from home to home and school to school and may not be getting consistent information about reproductive health and may not be learning how to develop healthy relationships,” she says. “A lot of them have experienced trauma, which can sometimes lead to risky behaviors.” The report, from the nonprofit Texans Care for Children, was derived from available state and national data as well as conducting surveys, focus groups and interviews with youth and adults involved in Texas foster care. Murphy says they found that not only does teen pregnancy in foster care often leads to a life of welfare involvement, but the children born to foster-care teens are twice as likely to enter the foster care system themselves. She says the report finds that foster-care teens often do not get the help and support they need from counselors at the state’s Child Protective Services agency. “They want guidance,” she adds. “They expect it from their caseworker, from their foster parent, their lawyer or their doctor, their CASA. But when we talked to providers, a lot of them feel ill-equipped; they don’t know how to answer questions about this topic.”

USA: Miami Herald's 'Fight Club' series about juvenile prison abuses named Pulitzer finalist

A Miami Herald investigative series that chronicled abuses in Florida's juvenile justice system and spurred legislative reform has received another prestigious nod – this time as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the Investigative Reporting category. "Fight Club," written by Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D .S. Burch, investigated 10 years of youth maltreatment in the state system, including beatings, cover-ups, sexual exploitation and medical neglect. The Pulitzer website called the project "a sweeping investigation of Florida’s juvenile justice system, prompted by the tragic death of a foster child and told in heartbreaking detail, that spurred legislative reform intended to better protect that state's young charges."

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16 APRIL

UK: Family justice needs wider reform

The successful turnaround of Cafcass, the once-troubled agency responsible for representing children’s interests in England’s family courts, will count for little unless the wider system is reformed, the agency’s former chair is warning. Claire Tyler, the Liberal Democrat peer who led the Cafcass board since 2012, says the agency – the UK’s biggest employer of social workers – is one of three critical strands in the welfare of children caught up in family disputes. Attention must turn to the family justice process itself, and to children’s social care. “We need some kind of campaign, some grouping or alliance to put a new focus on this whole issue,” says Lady Tyler, who stepped down at the end of March to be succeeded by former Conservative children’s minister Edward Timpson. “It’s something that really struggles to get anywhere at the top of the political agenda.”
Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, has just achieved an outstanding rating from Ofsted. Set up in 2001, the agency endured a torrid early existence and, as recently as 2010, was condemned by MPs on the Commons public accounts committee as unfit for purpose. Tyler attributes the turnaround to the consistent leadership of Anthony Douglas, Cafcass’s chief executive since 2004, who Tyler says has patiently built a strong and values-based organisation from the divided and chaotic team he inherited.

USA: Teen pregnancy rate 5 times higher among Texas foster youth

The 2015 pregnancy rate among Texas teens in the foster care system was almost five times higher than the pregnancy rate for girls not in foster care, according to a report released Monday by Austin nonprofit Texans Care for Children. Researchers with the organization used state Medicaid data to determine that 5.7 percent of girls between 13 and 17 in the foster system became pregnant compared with 1.2 percent of other Texas girls in the same age group in 2015, the latest data available. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the foster care system, started publishing in 2016 the number of foster youth who are pregnant each year, but the agency does not track the rate. A large contributor to the high rate of pregnancies is the trauma associated with being a foster child, said Kate Murphy, a Texans Care for Children policy analyst, adding that state officials as well as medical providers and caregivers can do more to educate foster youth on reproductive health, the importance of delaying pregnancy and building healthy relationships. “A lot of pregnancies for youth in foster care are not necessarily unplanned. They’re actually desired. A lot of kids want to feel loved and a part of what’s contributing to the higher rate is wanting the love in a family,” Murphy said. The overall teen pregnancy rate in Texas is among the highest in the nation – the state ranked 47th in preventing teen pregnancies in 2016 based on the number of births per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19. In addition to bringing down the pregnancy rate, the study’s researchers said that policymakers should focus on ensuring pregnant foster teens, who are typically covered under Medicaid, have proper prenatal and postpartum health care.

USA: Social media a powerful weapon in combating opioid crisis, reaching teens

Public awareness of drunk driving, lobbying by organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and eventually, federal pressure led to changes not only in the laws regarding alcohol and driving, but the culture. And Colorado health advocates are trying to pull off something similar with teens in a state where marijuana is now advertised alongside beer. The Rise Above Colorado campaign is attempting to harness the draw of social media to show young people there that there are “healthy, positive alternatives” to substance abuse, said Jonathan Judge, the program’s director. Speaking at a national drug abuse conference here this week, Judge said teens appear to be responding to clear, data-based and well-sourced messages over their favorite platforms. “One of the things we try to do is to balance between hope and concern, between the head and the heart,” he said. “We want intellectual content to go with some of the emotional, inspirational content. Teens more than adults really respond to that.” Judge and his colleagues at Rise Above Colorado were among dozens of presenters at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta. Mae Thompson, a student board member, said 94 percent of young people between 13 and 17 use social media platforms, especially the photo-sharing site Instagram. “We’re meeting teens where they’re at, which is social media,” Thompson said. Judge said the nonprofit, state- and donor- supported organization’s pages – primarily on Facebook and Instagram – got 250,000 visits in March, including 22,000 engaged viewers. It also drew about 29,000 clicks from about 9.5 million appearances on search engines. 

UK: Youth charity launches wellbeing drive

A youth charity has launched a four-year strategy to improve children's wellbeing. The Youth Sport Trust has helped 4.7 million children to participate in sport and physical activity since 2013. The Youth Sport Trust said it wants to use the power of sport, PE and physical activity to halt the decline in children's physical, mental and social wellbeing. The charity, which has helped more than 4.7 million children participate in sport and physical activity since 2013, said children and young people's wellbeing is in decline due to a lack of physical activity, low resilience and confidence, and the pressures of social media, exam stress and high youth unemployment. It said these problems are magnified for young people when they start school, progress to secondary school and enter employment, and are especially an issue for girls, children who are black, Asian, or from another ethnic minority, disabled children, or children from disadvantaged areas. The strategy includes plans to transform physical education's place in the curriculum, putting it at the centre of wellbeing and achievement in education. "We will work with teachers, young people, parents and policymakers to maximise PE's potential to improve children's wellbeing and achievement," the strategy states. It will also work to remove barriers to sport, disseminating best practice to ensure youth sport in the UK is inclusive, accessible and fun. 

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13 APRIL

Canada: B.C.'s children's representative to retire after just 16 months in the job

B.C. children’s representative Bernard Richard will retire early from the key position of advocating for vulnerable youth in the child welfare system, after less than two years in the high-profile role. Richard, a former New Brunswick politician and children’s advocate, said that when he was hired in November 2016 it was as a “transition representative,” taking over from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who held the post for a decade. Turpel-Lafond’s scathing reports on the failings of the system pushed hard for change, but along the way she developed a very fractious relationship with the government. “When I first arrived, every meeting I attended there was kind of a tension that wasn’t healthy. I really saw my role quickly as re-establishing trust between our office and primarily MCFD (the ministry for children and family development), and that I think has happened,” he said. When asked for any advice he would offer to his replacement, Richard said not to make the battles for change personal, and to find an efficient way to achieve progress. “You have to take advantage of the independence you have – Mary Ellen was supreme at doing that. She was an amazing representative for children and youth, so it was hard to follow in her footsteps. But you also have to maintain a level of balance,” he said. Turpel-Lafond on Wednesday said much change is still required in B.C., after decades of budget erosion, and said there is a continued need for strong and independent advocacy.  

USA: Supporting all children and all families in Maryland

HRC (Human Rights Campaign) Foundation's All Children – All Families (ACAF) program helps child welfare agencies serve LGBTQ children, youth and families with compassion and inclusion. From a trans woman and her partner exploring adoption, to a single bisexual man interested in foster parenting and the many LGBTQ young people in foster care, the program provides resources and trainings for agencies so they can welcome and support all of the community members they serve. Alison Delpercio, who manages the ACAF program, is leading an HRC Foundation team that is conducting two weeks of training in Prince George's County, Maryland. More than 250 county staff members will be trained through a collaboration between HRC and the county's Department of Social Services. This training is part of a larger national effort, known as a Quality Improvement Center, that seeks to “develop, integrate, and sustain best practices and programs that improve outcomes for children and youth in foster care with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.” Through this partnership, the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services will evaluate and implement new staff training and care coordination services for LGBTQ youth. The training includes the full HRC Foundation All Children – All Families curriculum, which offers both foundational material and advanced content tailored for direct service professionals who work with LGBTQ children, youth and families. Another component of the training will focus on training facilitators, with lessons geared toward public and private child welfare agencies seeking to build their internal capacity to deliver LGBTQ competency training.

New Zealand: Government heeding call for unrelenting focus on child wellbeing

A UN report into child wellbeing reinforces the government’s sense of urgency in putting children at the heart of everything we do, Prime Minister and Minister for Child Poverty Reduction Jacinda Ardern says: “This Government is determined to make New Zealand the best country in the world to be a child. The report notes progress over the last 25 years has been ‘slow and patchy’ and that New Zealand is out of step with international standards.This Government wants to change that. We are committed to making this country a world leader when it comes to child wellbeing. We have already introduced ambitious measures to help us get there. Our Child Poverty Reduction Bill requires governments to set three and 10-year targets on child poverty reduction, and provide updates in each Budget. Alongside that any legislative decisions we make must take into account the impact they will have on our children, while our Families package will increase the incomes of around 384,000 households by an average of $75 a week. We have established a Royal Commission to investigate historic abuse and violence towards children in state care and are in the process of developing a comprehensive strategy to promote the overall wellbeing of children and tamariki. We are making big strides in ensuring New Zealand is the best place in the world to be a child, but I won’t be satisfied until we are.”  

USA: California Counties rewarded for signing foster youth up for college aid

Four California counties were recognized at the California Foster Youth Education Summit for their efforts to help foster youth get financial aid to attend college, as part of the inaugural Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge. Fresno, San Diego, Sonoma, and Yuba counties each received a check to be used for services that support foster youths’ successful transition into college. Led by John Burton Advocates for Youth, the contest encouraged counties to help high school seniors who are in foster care fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps connect prospective college students with grants and loans. “Over 90 percent of foster youth say they aspire to go to college,” said retired Sen. John Burton, who founded the organization behind the challenge. “Having someone to guide you through the seemingly simple effort of completing the FAFSA, and then receiving the resources to actually pursue a post-secondary education, can be a life-changing event.” Each foster student from the winning counties who submitted a FAFSA as part of this contest is also entered into a drawing to win a $500 scholarship. The Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge was developed to help foster youth tap into millions of dollars that they may not know they’re eligible for, according to Debbie Raucher, project manager for John Burton Advocates for Youth. “This campaign has even exceeded our expectations,” Raucher told The Chronicle. “In terms of the level of engagement, counties really starting to create processes that will exist long past the campaign.”

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11 APRIL

Canada: Province commits $4.7 million for Indigenous housing complex in Kamloops

The provincial government has come through with approximately $4.7 million to cover the full cost of building a housing project for Indigenous youth and elders in Brocklehurst. Lii Michif Otipemisiwak Family and Community Services is developing the affordable rental housing project that will see youth who age out of government care live under the same roof as their First Nations elders. B.C.’s housing minister, Selina Robinson, was at Lii Michif on Wednesday afternoon to announce the funding commitment to a crowd gathered at the North Shore office of the Métis support agency. “We need to start addressing this need we have around Indigenous housing,” Robinson said. “This complex will not only be a place for Indigenous youth to call their own, but a space where they can learn from their elders, giving them a much-needed support network. They will have the time and security to build their lives while they’re here.” A full-time housing manager and a support worker will provide counselling and other supports to residents. Former Lii Michif mentor Katrina Powell, who was born and raised in Kamloops, believes the project could help prevent a lot of homelessness in the area. “I feel like there is a huge stigma that comes with [being a youth in care] and it affects them and it creates mental-health issues, multiple barriers and drug addiction,” Powell said. “This program is probably the best thing that could happen to theses youth to prevent them from aging out and having no support along the way.”

USA: Stemming the tide of youth in prison

Seven in 10 juveniles arrested in Illinois have underlying mental health issues, and advocates are urging lawmakers to offer them treatment rather than jail time. According to the report “Stemming the Tide,” 30,000 young people have been arrested and 11,000 incarcerated in the state. Public Defender Amy Campanelli is calling on lawmakers to implement a diversion plan like the one that's been successful in the Miama-Dade area in Florida. It allows officers to issue citations to 8- to 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors, rather than taking them to jail. The young people are then evaluated to see if intervention is needed. Campanelli said the key to success is that the program is run by a social service agency, rather than the criminal justice system. "If you look at the last 40 years, what has punishment done? What have tough-on-crime laws done? What has the drug war done? Nothing,” Campanelli said. “It has incarcerated, the majority, black and brown youths, taken away generations of people from their families, and it has not made us safer." The Illinois Legislature created a task force to produce the report. The panel made 14 recommendations, including improving mental health screenings for early identification of youth at risk, and having someone check up on those kids after release to make sure they're back in school and receiving treatment.

UK: Serious violence strategy – youth projects to get £11m

A new £11m Early Intervention Youth Fund will be established to support community projects that help steer young people away from violence, as part of the government's serious violence strategy, it has been announced. Home Secretary Amber Rudd is due to launch the strategy at an event in London today amid concerns about escalating levels of violence with more than 50 people dying as a result of violent attacks in the capital so far this year. The strategy is expected to stress the importance of early intervention to tackle the root causes of serious violence and steer young people away from crime. It will also highlight the changing drugs market – such as "county lines" crime which involves gangs from urban areas establishing drug-dealing networks in rural areas – as a key driver of violence, setting aside £3.6m to establish a new National County Lines Co-ordination Centre. In total, an additional £40m will be provided by the Home Office over the next two years to tackle the issue. "A crucial part of our approach will be focusing on and investing more in prevention and early intervention. We need to engage with our young people early and to provide the incentives and credible alternatives that will prevent them from being drawn into crime in the first place. This in my view is the best long-term solution."

USA: The number of Texas kids behind bars is suddenly at its lowest point in decades

The average daily population in the state's five secure juvenile lockups has hovered around 1,040 for years. But after more than 100 offenders were released, paroled or reassigned in the past three months, that number dropped below 900 on Friday. The population reduction was intentional. After a report on physical violence and sexual abuse at the state's largest juvenile facility in Gainesville Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Texas Rangers to investigate. He also installed Camille Cain, one of his top staffers, as the system's new leader. Cain has focused on lowering the offender population in the short term. The agency is also offering recruitment and retention bonuses to boost its chronically lagging staffing levels in the hopes that the higher guard-to-juvenile ratio will reduce rates of violence. "We are now conducting more proactive reviews that actively identify youth who can be released to halfway houses or parole," the juvenile justice agency said last month. "Typically 70 youth per month were moved out of secure facilities in this way." Most of the youthful offenders were released or paroled, sent to halfway houses or medium-secure facilities, or they aged out because they passed their 19th birthday, the agency said. Twenty were sent to the adult criminal justice system, including six who been convicted of new crimes in the juvenile system. All reassignment changes were made with public safety in mind, with only "the best candidates for potential release or discharge" considered, including youths younger than 14 who had committed nonviolent crimes or completed specialized treatment programs. 

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9 APRIL

South Africa: Trevor Noah launches foundation to help vulnerable SA youth excel

South Africa-born comedian Trevor Noah on Wednesday launched his own foundation focusing on equipping orphans and vulnerable youth with the education, life skills, and social capital necessary to pursue further opportunities upon graduating high school. Noah, the host of The Daily Show in America, said that he was inspired by advice from South-African born Hollywood actress Charlize Theron to "believe in drops in the bucket" when setting up a foundation to benefit people facing complex challenges. "The journey and goal is the start a programme, and better understand how to help schools move forwards. Then, we want to help these schools become self-sufficient. Each experience will inform the next. Today is only the beginning," Noah said. "We are going to look for people who are already pushing, and we are going to help them push. Many hands can make light work. Fundamentally, the foundation is going to bridge the gap between learners and the education they deserve." The Trevor Noah Foundation, which was launched at New Nation School in Johannesburg, aims to invest in three priority areas: psycho-social support, skills development, and career guidance.

USA: Millions sought to stem arrests at foster care shelters

A California lawmaker is calling for $22.7 million in state funding to help prevent unwarranted arrests of abused and neglected children in the state’s residential foster-care facilities – a disturbing practice exposed in a Chronicle investigation last year. The three-year budget proposal, to be introduced next week by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson (Los Angeles County), comes as arrests continue across the state at county children’s shelters, despite pledges of reform. While the total number of law enforcement interventions declined last year at shelters, children as young as 11 were still being cited, arrested and detained. The incidents involved such things as disputes over use of a swing set and tussles over brownies, or children hurling a half a banana or squirting toothpaste. Often, they ended with trips to juvenile hall for alleged assault and vandalism. “There is just something fundamentally wrong about the way they are responding to children with whom they have been entrusted,” said Bill Grimm, directing attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. “What they end up doing is re-traumatizing the youth who have come to them already in a traumatized state.” Gipson’s budget proposal calls for the use of police resources only for true emergencies. It follows legislation he introduced last month that would impose a three-year moratorium on arrests for minor offenses in foster care shelters and group homes. The funding he is seeking is intended to ensure that facilities employ alternatives to handcuffs and jail cells.

Canada: Formerly homeless youth guide help for others

A private foundation is providing $175,000 as part of its efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada. Research suggests that on any given night, more than 6,000 young people are without a place to call home and The Home Depot Canada Foundation calls this one of the most urgent social issues facing Canadians today. In a recent national survey, almost 80 per cent of homeless youth said they left home because of family conflict and 63 per cent reported childhood trauma and abuse. About 83 per cent said they had experienced bullying at school and that is four times more than other Canadian youth. About half reported having been tested for a learning disability and there is over-representation among Indigenous, minority and LGBTQ+ youth. The Home Depot Canada Foundation engaged young people who were once homeless themselves to help determine where this grant would make the greatest impact. The funds will be awarded to seven Canadian charities. “By acknowledging organizations who involve the youth they serve in program planning and decision-making, we help get the next generation involved in the mission to end youth homeless in Canada,” said Jeff Kinnaird, chair of The Home Depot Canada Foundation and president of The Home Depot Canada. The Foundation has pledged $20 million by the end of 2018 to improve housing options, support life skills development programs, invest in prevention initiatives and to discover how best to direct funding.

Scotland: Care Inspectorate begin revised Joint Inspection model

The national regulator for care services in Scotland will this month commence a revised model for the way the wellbeing of children and young people is monitored and reported. Working with scrutiny partners, the Care Inspectorate’s new Joint Inspection model will take into account the lived experience of some of the country’s most vulnerable people when analysing current practices and potential areas of improvement. The change comes as part of the Scottish Government’s Child Protection Improvement Programme, which in 2017 tasked the regulator with listening more closely to the voices of care experienced children and young people. As well as collaborating with a range of stakeholders, including young inspection volunteers, the Care Inspectorate will also work with CELCIS to deliver a data improvement programme. The development of a shared data set will aim to help assess risk and understand where inspections can have most value. 

USA: California Counties rewarded for signing foster youth up for college aid

Four California counties were recognized at the California Foster Youth Education Summit for their efforts to help foster youth get financial aid to attend college, as part of the inaugural Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge. Fresno, San Diego, Sonoma, and Yuba counties each received a check to be used for services that support foster youths’ successful transition into college. Led by John Burton Advocates for Youth, the contest encouraged counties to help high school seniors who are in foster care fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps connect prospective college students with grants and loans. “Over 90 percent of foster youth say they aspire to go to college,” said retired Sen. John Burton, who founded the organization behind the challenge. “Having someone to guide you through the seemingly simple effort of completing the FAFSA, and then receiving the resources to actually pursue a post-secondary education, can be a life-changing event.” Each foster student from the winning counties who submitted a FAFSA as part of this contest is also entered into a drawing to win a $500 scholarship. The Foster Youth FAFSA Challenge was developed to help foster youth tap into millions of dollars that they may not know they’re eligible for, according to Debbie Raucher, project manager for John Burton Advocates for Youth. “This campaign has even exceeded our expectations,” Raucher told The Chronicle. “In terms of the level of engagement, counties really starting to create processes that will exist long past the campaign.” 

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5 APRIL

Canada: B.C. project offers children independent representation in court

The Society for Children and Youth of BC has launched a project that provides independent legal assistance for young people who are involved in family-law and child-protection cases. The program launched in late October and its funding is assured until early 2020. “In our opinion, B.C. was and is well behind the rest of the country when it comes to children and youth having that access to legal representation,” Stephanie Howell, the society’s executive director, said in an interview. It has an annual budget of approximately $460,000. The money primarily comes from the Law Foundation of BC and the Law Foundation of Ontario. Bernard Richard, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, said in an interview that he is excited to see the program unfold. “We see in our office every day cases where independent legal advice for children could be critical,” he said. “I think in very strongly disputed cases, where there is evidence of domestic violence, where the interests of children are often at the heart of the matter, having their voices heard directly through independent legal counsel can be critical,” he added. B.C.’s Ministry of Attorney General said in a statement that it supports the society’s work and looks forward to hearing more about its progress.

Australia: Prison report targets child protection  

A national inquiry into child protection laws and processes affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is one of 35 wide-ranging recommendations in a major report on the over-representation of Indigenous people in Australian prisons. The 524-page report by the Australian Law Reform Commission, led by Indigenous judge Matthew Myers, was tabled in Federal Parliament last week and has been supported by Aboriginal legal bodies and human rights organisations across the nation. The culmination of 11 months of investigations by the ALRC, an independent statutory body set up to conduct reviews into Australian laws, the report comes as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults now make up 27 percent of domestic prisoners, despite accounting for just two percent of the national population. It recommends setting ‘Closing the Gap’-type targets to reduce the rate at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people are locked up and also the rates of violence against Indigenous people, particularly women. The 'Pathways to Justice – Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' report acknowledges the high rate of removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into out-of-home care and also the links between out-of-home-care, juvenile justice and adult incarceration.

WHO set to recognize video game addiction as ‘disorder’

The WHO has said it will include “gaming disorder” in a June update to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), defining it as a pattern of behaviour “characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” A diagnosis would recognize “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.” Prof. Jeffrey Derevensky, director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling at McGill University, consulted with the WHO in preparing the upcoming ICD-11 release and says video game addiction is “clearly a growing problem.” “It may not have the same prevalence as some other disorders but ... I get a call at least once every two weeks from a parent who says, ‘I can’t get him off his computer,’ or ‘I can’t get him off his cellphone because all he wants to do is play these games,“’ Derevensky says. 

UK: Fall in number of young people 'Staying Put' in foster care

The proportion of young people who remain in foster care after turning 18 has fallen to its lowest level since the introduction of the Staying Put duty, new figures show. Under the Staying Put initiative, which was made law through the Children and Families Act 2014, councils have a duty to support looked-after children who want to remain with their foster carer until they are 21. But concerns have previously been raised that the scheme is being hindered by a lack of funding from central government to enable councils to cover the additional cost. Fostering data published by Ofsted shows that the percentage of young people in foster care who staying on after their 18th birthday dropped significantly from 2,190 young people in 2015/16 (54 per cent of those eligible) to 1,570 in 2016/17 (46 per cent of those eligible). Within the 2016/17 figures, the proportion of young people living in local authority foster care who remained in a placement fell from 56 to 52 per cent, while the percentage in independent foster agency placements declined from 50 to 38 per cent. Takeup is now at its lowest level since 2014, when the government introduced the legal duty. The decline means the levels of fostered young people staying on after 18 are now lower than in 2013, prior to the introduction of the duty.

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3 APRIL 

Canada: B.C. increases funding, age limit for youth aging out of government care

Young people aging out of government care in B.C. will now get some extra cash, and one more year to transition out of the system if desired. As of April 1, the provincial government raised the eligibility age for the Agreements with Young Adults program to 26, matching the Provincial Tuition Waiver Program. The program helps out former youth in care who attend approved educational, vocational, life skills or rehabilitation programs. Youth in the program will also get up to $1,250 per month – that’s an increase of $250 from $1,000. The money will also be available to them all year – not just while school is in session. The province said the changes come as cost of living in B.C. has risen by 13 per cent since 2009. However, the changes fall short of the $1,375 per month advocated for by youth advocacy group First Call BC. The organization published a report late last year that called for more funding and an end to age limits for tuition waivers. Close to 900 youth age out of care every year in B.C., and 2,880 have received funding since the program was introduced in 2008.

UK: Scrap council tax for care leavers across Wales say charities

Charities that support children leaving care have called on ministers to end the postcode lottery surrounding whether they pay council tax. Six of Wales' 22 councils are exempting care leavers from paying the tax from the start of April - some until the age of 21 and others to 25. But charities including The Children's Society and Voices From Care Cymru said it should be brought in everywhere. The Welsh government said the decision remained with each local authority. The charities have called on Welsh ministers to follow the Scottish government's lead, saying it would end confusion and ensure all care leavers were treated equally, no matter where they lived. The Children's Society, which has been discussing the issue with AMs, said it would give a helping hand to some of the most vulnerable members of society. "We know that many care leavers live on their own from the age of 18, which is completely different to many other young people," said local campaigns manager Sarah Wayman. "Having debts hanging over your head can result in bailiffs and court action, which can become increasingly stressful for a young person who doesn't have any support." She added about 70 councils in England had brought in exemptions.

South Africa: Treatment centre for 'problematic' teens shuts its doors 

Cape Town: James House’s residential treatment centre, the only NPO-run in-house treatment intervention for teenagers between 12 and 16 in the province, will close its doors due to a lack of funding. The centre, the Systematic Treatment of Adolescents with Challenging Behaviour in Residential Setting (Stars) offered therapy for teenagers considered “problematic” in their communities. Established with the help of the provincial Department of Social Development in 2015, Stars is the only project to offer therapy to troublesome teens. James House was founded 32 years ago. Alene Smith, partnerships and programmes manager at James House, said the youth centre had managed to raise only R1million of the R5m needed to continue operating. “Our core function is to work with adolescent children who display severe externalised behaviour,” she said. “The programme was fully funded by the Department of Social Development and since funding has dried up, we can’t take children anymore. As a result, the kids who were supposed to come in February could not come,” Noel Milner, fundraising co-ordinator, said. He said the project had had a positive impact in the communities across the province. Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson for Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, said the department had decided to discontinue funding due to “the high costs and issues around value-for-money and effectiveness of programmes”.

UK: Special needs cash shortfall 'leaves thousands of pupils unplaced'

A shortage of special needs funding means growing numbers of children are being left without suitable school places, a teachers' leader has warned. National Education Union leader Kevin Courtney said official statistics showed 4,050 special needs pupils were without a place in 2017 in England. He said it was a disgrace that such pupils were at home because councils were being "starved" of funds for them. The government said money for schools and special needs had been protected. It was due to rise to its highest ever level of £43bn in 2020, with £6bn allocated for special educational needs this year, it said. But the Department for Education figures showed the number of pupils with special needs (SEND) without a school place last year had more than doubled from 1,710 in 2016. According to a survey by the Association of Directors of Children's Services, there was a £400m shortfall in high needs funding last year. Mr Courtney said: "Children are at home because local authorities don't have enough money to provide suitable education." 

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