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23 FEBRUARY

Ireland: 'Children lost in plain sight every day’, says Barnardos chief

“We need to shine a light on the experiences of these children, highlighting this injustice at a national level and demand real solutions,” said Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay. The campaign features an interactive 360-degree Lost film to show how lots of people helped a terrified and panicked parent find her lost child in a public place. “But what is society doing about the children lost in plain sight every day; those lost through no fault of their own to homelessness, to poverty and to neglect,” it asks. Already, hundreds of people supporting the campaign have pledged to help change the lives of one in seven children for the better. The online campaign challenges the Government to implement short-term practical steps and ensure children are given the political priority they deserve. Mr Finlay said thousands of children were living in hotels or overcrowded accommodation without space they need to live, play and grow. Thousands more lived in poverty or languished on waiting lists for essential health services, such as speech and language therapy and mental health services. It was obvious that children and childhood were not a priority in Ireland, he said. “How is this OK? How do we as a country think this is OK?” Mr Finlay asked. “For too long children have not been a priority politically and childhood itself has not been valued as it should be – the most important time of a person’s life.” Mr Finlay said the community had a responsibility to ensure every child could reach their potential.

USA: Former foster youth share findings of survey on preventing removals from families

In early February, the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council hosted a webinar on its most recent policy focus on preventing unnecessary removal of children from their families. Three former foster youth – Dani Townsend, David Hall and Nico’Lee Biddle – presented the group’s findings from their survey on the subject and recommendations that will be shared with federal stakeholders. Hall shared a few highlights from the survey, which included responses from 200 current and former foster youth. Among them, 59 percent of respondents did not feel they were included in the investigation that led to their placement in foster care. Another 55 percent of respondents were not confident in their child welfare professional’s commitment to keeping their families together. “Our families deserve and need to be supported,” said Hall, who was in and out of care before aging out in Oklahoma. The Council’s identified priorities on preventing unnecessary removal include:

1.Engaging youth during the investigation and when developing prevention services.
2.Not using removal as a way to punish parents.
3.Not removing a youth because of the way one worker views a family.
4.Educating child welfare professionals about the importance of prevention services.
5.Increase support to address the substance abuse and mental health crises facing many parents and families.
6.Connect families to services when a removal to foster care is not made.

There are 22 members of the council, which was created in partnership with the Foster Care Alumni of America and FosterClub, and supported by Casey Family Programs. Consisting of former foster youth, the council focuses its work on areas they’ve identified as priorities: aging out, crossover youth, mental health, normalcy, well-being, social capital, homelessness, vulnerability, prevention. 

UK: Ombudsman – teenager's death in Wandsworth prison 'appalling' 

The death of a distressed Lithuanian teenager in the segregation unit of Wandsworth prison after he was arrested has been condemned as “appalling and tragic” by the prisons and probation ombudsman. An investigation by the acting ombudsman has found that on the day of his death, Osvaldas Pagirys, 18, had rung a bell in his segregation cell but it took prison staff 37 minutes to respond – by which time he was found hanging unconscious. The investigation also found that Pagirys had been found with a noose around his neck on five previous occasions during the three months he had been in Wandsworth. A coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death on Tuesday following an inquest into the vulnerable teenager’s death on 14 November 2016. After being arrested for stealing sweets he was held first in Pentonville and then moved to Wandsworth pending his extradition to Lithuania on a European arrest warrant. Pagirys died six months after the then justice secretary, Michael Gove, had named Wandsworth, UK’s largest prison, as a key “trailblazer” in his “reform prison” movement. In a statement after the inquest, Pagirys’s family described the support he had received as “inadequate” and said they were “shocked” it took staff so long to respond to the cell bell.

South Africa: Three-year-old hailed as hero after Durban children's home blaze

A sharp-eyed 3-year-old boy who noticed smoke coming from the roof in a Durban children's home has been hailed as a hero after he raised the alarm which lead to the safe evacuation of all 55 children before a fire gutted the building on Tuesday night. The fire broke out in a cottage in the wing of the Edith Benson Children’s Home‚ which houses 55 children in the baby and toddler section‚ shortly before 8pm. The children and 12 child and youth care workers who were with the children‚ were evacuated before firefighters tried to bring the blaze under control. The fire spread to other cottages and destroyed the kitchen‚ lounge‚ and dining and play areas. The home is run by the non-governmental organisation‚ Child Welfare Durban. Edith Benson Children's Home manager Firdose Moola‚ who was one of the first to respond to the fire. told the social development MEC Weziwe Thusi‚ who conducted an in-loco inspection on Wednesday morning‚ that as soon as the 3-year-old notified the child care worker‚ she alerted her colleagues and the children were all taken to safety.  

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21 FEBRUARY

Scotland: Care leavers in Glasgow less likely to stay in education or go into a job than other pupils

Care leavers in Glasgow are less likely to stay in education or go into a job or training than other pupils. Figures show that one in five of looked after children in the city no not go into a ‘positive destination’ on leaving school. For the overall school population the rate in the city is one in ten. Of the 79.5% who do go into a job training or stay in education many of them have dropped out or left the job after nine months. Glasgow has a better rate of success than the rest of Scotland and other big local authorities with significant numbers of looked after children. Across Scotland more than one in four 28% are in positive destinations and nine months later 14% have dropped off leaving just 57% still engaged in purposeful activity. The figures were released to Labour who said better support is needed for young people leaving care. Mary Fee, Labour MSP, said: “The huge drop off in care leavers being in what this government class as a positive destination should be a cause for concern. We go from almost three quarters of care leavers in a so called positive destination to barely over half 9 months later, and in some cases these destinations are in reality zero hours jobs with no guaranteed hours or income. That points to real problems in on-going support for care leavers.” Glasgow city Council said there is a tail off for all pupils in terms of positive destinations in follow up surveys. A spokesman said: “We have taken big strides in improving outcomes for care leavers in Glasgow over the past five years. We must keep building on the progress made so far as this will mean that increasing numbers of care leavers will be able to fulfil their ambitions in training, education and employment.”

USA: Maine County picked to join federal effort to combat youth homelessness

Franklin County in western Maine is one of four rural sites across the country chosen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to take part in a 100-day effort to end and prevent youth homelessness. New Beginnings, a nonprofit that provides services to runaway and homeless youth in Androscoggin, Kennebec and Franklin counties is taking the lead on the pilot. Executive Director Chris Bicknell says a network of community partners, created during the first 50 days of the challenge, is exploring effective strategies for identifying homeless youth, referring them into services and creating safety and stability. He says the second phase is implementation. “Some of that may involve short-term interventions in the community. We’re looking at host-home models, we’re looking at using our transitional living units in that area, but also trying to engage other community partners in nontraditional ways of supporting homeless youth,” Bicknell says. He says continuing conflicts at home can eventually lead to homeless and ending up in the shelter system. For a young person in Franklin County the nearest shelter is in Lewiston. Bicknell says the desire is to create a local solution for local youth. “We want to stop a young person from leaving their community of origin, leaving all their natural supports. We don’t want them to leave their school. We don’t want them to leave their friends. We don’t want them to leave their faith community. We don’t want them to be completely disconnected from their families,” he says.

Netherlands: Education minister pledges to step up efforts to cut ‘unacceptable’ school absence  

Around 4,000 children missed at least three months of school last year despite efforts by the government to tackle the causes of long-term absence. The number of so-called ‘thuiszitters‘ was roughly the same in 2016/17 as in the previous academic year. Around 1700 children were not registered with a school at all. Education minister Arie Slob said the trend was ‘not acceptable’. ‘Children who don’t go to school can fall behind in their education, but also miss out on making friends,’ he said. Two years ago former children’s ombudsman Marc Dullaert was given the job of enacting an agreement between the government, education authorities and municipalities to improve the system for reducing school absence. Dullaert said youth care and education services needed to work more closely together to identify children at risk of missing school. School absence is often linked to domestic problems such as an acrimonious divorce. The current government has extended Dullaert’s term by six months. Slob said he also wanted to change the system for exempting children from school, which is currently the responsibility of family doctors. The minister said schools and local authorities should be involved in the process. "That would help doctors making the decision because they don’t always have a good picture of the available options to tailor the schooling for the pupil."

USA: Florida shooting survivors rally for stricter gun controls

Survivors of a Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead have travelled to the state capital to press lawmakers to take more action on gun control. About 100 students arrived in Tallahassee hours before the state legislature rejected a ban on assault rifles like the one used in the attack. They are due to stage a rally at the statehouse later and meet legislators. It is the first organised protest of the youth-led anti-gun movement that has swept the US since the attack. The #NeverAgain movement was born out of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland one week ago, the second-deadliest school shooting in US history. For the first time, articulate student survivors of the attack have broken into the much debated topic of gun violence and gun controls, says the BBC's Barbara Plett in Tallahassee. Wednesday's demonstration is their first organised protest aimed at putting pressure on legislators to ban assault-style rifles, similar to the semi-automatic AR-15 model used by the gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz.  

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19 FEBRUARY

 UK: Hire more young people from foster care and children’s homes, minister urges businesses

To mark Care Day in the UK today, the senior Conservative and former deputy mayor of London is reminding businesses they can claim up to £1,000 from the Government for taking on an apprentice from such a background. He said: “Each year over 12,000 teenagers in England make the leap to independent living from care without the family support many of us have enjoyed. It’s up to all of us to help care leavers get the right opportunities and businesses play a vital role in this.” The Government’s See Potential programme offers employers advice and support on hiring the youngsters, ranging from short-term traineeships to buddying schemes. Mr Malthouse urged business leaders “to recognise we’re all parents to care leavers” and back the See Potential campaign. He added: “This not only provides the crucial support needed to find a job but can also add real value to their workforce.” Shereen Russell, 32, who was fostered at 13 and now works for Transport for London, said: “Care can be a lonely place. Trying to get a job can cause anxiety and nervousness because maybe they haven’t got experience approaching people. “Even things like CV-writing and how to go about a job can be hard. If you haven’t had much experience or anyone encouraging that, such as a personal adviser or social worker, actually going for a job could be difficult.” Ms Russell went to university and was able to stay in care until 24. She began an internship with the Department for Work and Pensions for care leavers and was later hired by TfL. She said: “There can be a stigma attached but there’s lots of us that go on to do amazing things.”

UK: Councils struggling to cope with surge in child protection referrals

Half of all children identified as being in need of help by councils have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, the Local Government Association has said. But cuts to local services mean councils are struggling to cope with an avalanche of child protection referrals, with a child referred to children’s services every 49 seconds. Councils began more than 500 child protection investigations every day last year – up from 200 a decade ago, according to the LGA. Councils are increasingly only able to address “critical” situations and help the most at-risk children instead of carrying out vital preventive work to stop domestic violence and its devastating impact on victims, said the organisation that represents 370 councils in England and Wales. Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, warned that children’s services would face a funding gap of £2bn by 2020, and called on the government urgently to put in place a promised comprehensive package of reform around domestic violence announced in the Queen’s speech last year. “It’s awful to imagine the pain and hurt that perpetrators [of domestic violence] inflict on victims and to think of children witnessing or even being victims of abuse,” said Blackburn. “We need the government to include early intervention and preventive measures in its reforms to address domestic abuse as the best way to tackle this issue ... Failure to invest in these services will have long-term consequences for our country’s children and families and create crises which are much more expensive to solve in the long run.”

USA: West Virginia college for foster care youth gets name

A West Virginia college aimed at young adults transitioning out of the foster care system now has a name. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports KVC Health Systems announced at a news conference Thursday the college in Montgomery will be called the Riverbend Center Supporting Higher Education. Plans are for it to open in early July with about 50 students initially. Olathe, Kansas-based KVC Health Systems, which specializes in behavioral health care and child welfare, is converting the West Virginia University Institute of Technology's former campus. Students will be given the chance to earn two-year degrees at no cost to them and live on campus full time. Foster care benefits are terminated at age 21 in most states, including West Virginia.

New Zealand: Survey shows youth smoking at all-time low

Young New Zealanders are not that keen to take a puff on a cigarette, new research shows. Results from the Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH) survey, released on Wednesday, show that out of 25,000 year 10 students, only 2.2 per cent smoke daily, compared with 15.2 per cent when a similar survey was done in 1999. At the same time, the number of students who have never even taken a puff of a cigarette has increased to nearly 80 per cent, an increase from 55 per cent a decade ago. ASH Programme Manager, Boyd Broughton, says the decline in smoking for year 10 students is one of the big success stories of the smokefree movement in New Zealand. "We are releasing the results as young people return to school because much of this success has been down to the hard work and commitment of schools to being smokefree," she said. "Young people are highly influenced by the environment around them, especially what their peers and parents do. Schools are doing a great job fostering smokefree environments and contributing to the decline in year 10 smoking." There were still some concerning numbers, Mr Broughton said, with Maori students showing higher smoking rates than their European counterparts - 5.9 per cent versus 1 per cent. 

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16 FEBRUARY

UK: CSE focus 'diverts attention from other forms of abuse', NSPCC warns

The current focus on tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) is distracting policymakers from efforts to combat other forms of child abuse, the NSPCC has warned. According to the NSPCC, 90 per cent of abuse is carried out by someone the victim knows, such as a family member. But the charity believes the debate around child abuse has become too focused on CSE, as well as crimes committed by celebrities. The issue of CSE has grown in prominence in recent years on the back of an independent report by Professor Alexis Jay which estimated that 1,400 children in Rotherham were sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013. The government went on to launch a high-profile strategy in March 2015, containing a raft of measures to tackle CSE. But the NSPCC is concerned that the focus on CSE has distracted politicians, the media and justice agencies from other more prevalent forms of child sex abuse. Vivienne Laing, NSPCC's Wales policy and public affairs manager is to raise the concerns on a BBC Radio Wales documentary being broadcast tonight (14 February). "What we're concerned about is that the news and the focus of local authorities, safeguarding boards, governments, [and the] Crown Prosecution Service is very much on celebrities and on child sexual exploitation," she said. "Whereas we're really concerned about child sex abuse in the family and that seems to have been forgotten about. We think it's the most prevalent form of child sex abuse."

India: Use technology for welfare of children – Supreme Court

Data regarding children could be easily collected by using computers and the internet, the apex court says. India’s status as a technological powerhouse in the world would remain on paper if the state does not take advantage of its resources to benefit the children or track the missing ones, the Supreme Court has said. The apex court, while stressing the need for use of technology in Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs), said it was “disheartened” that there was an acute shortage of computers and peripherals in these bodies. A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta said the use of technology would help in dealing with crucial issues like tracing and tracking of missing children, rescuing those working in hazardous industries and victims of child sexual abuse. “It is well-known that our country is a technological powerhouse and if we are unable to take advantage of the resources available with us and fully utilise the benefits of technology through computers and the internet for the benefit of children, our status as a technological powerhouse would be in jeopardy and would remain only on paper,” the Bench said. It said the data regarding children could be easily collected by using computers and the internet. “This would be of great assistance in planning and management of resources and MWCD [Ministry of Women and Child Development] and others concerned with child rights must take full advantage of this,” the Bench said. 

New Zealand: MidCentral DHB backs out of child development service in Manawatu and Horowhenua

Children may have to continue to wait for expert help after the MidCentral District Health Board back-tracked on expanding a child-development service. The Ministry of Health-funded service in Manawatu and Horowhenua helps children 16 and under who have long-term disabilities or are at risk of developing one. MidCentral DHB also gives money to the service, but plans to help expand the psycho-diagnostic service have been shelved. Despite the service having an increasing waiting list, MidCentral will not pump money into more clinical psychology and occupational therapy resources that were meant to take shape from January 2018. MidCentral was no longer in a position to absorb the cost, according to a staff report. By not proceeding with the expansion, the board saves $110,000 in the 2017/18 year and $220,000 a year thereafter. The report to the healthy communities advisory committee said the service expansion was expected to have a "direct impact on children and their families". "It would help deal with the increasing numbers of children who wait for assessments, which determine their access to Ministry of Education and health supports." Speeding up the assessment process was expected to have "potential lifetime benefits" for the families, the report said. But at a committee meeting on Tuesday, MidCentral chief executive Kathryn Cook said it was the ministry's responsibility to fund child disability services. "It is not the responsibility of this district health board."

USA: In Maryland House, Senate Committees debate protections for foster youth

On Feb. 8, advocates testified on legislation that would tackle a malicious form of financial abuse – the ongoing theft by the state government of Social Security benefits intended for foster youth.The federal benefits legislation (SB291/HB524) introduced by state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno (D-Montgomery) and Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) would require the state to set aside a portion of the Social Security benefits being distributed to foster youth as they prepare to age out of the system. Currently, the Department of Human Services is applying for federal benefits, such as Social Security Disability and Social Security Survivor benefits, for abused and neglected children who are living outside their homes. However, rather than using that child’s benefits for additional services for that child, they are using the money to reimburse the state for the cost of their placement. Both the Social Security program operations manual and subsequent case law speak to the responsibility of the state to ensure that benefits received for a beneficiary are, in fact, used in the best interests of the beneficiary. The rampant practice by states of taking the benefit money led the Social Security Advisory Board in January to release a report urging states to change their behavior. The report flagged that foster care agencies’ self-reimbursement practices of taking foster children’s funds conflict with their fiduciary obligation only to serve the best interests of their beneficiaries.

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14 FEBRUARY

USA: State dispatches nine experts to probe Hillsborough’s foster care troubles

A pattern of leaving teens in foster care unsupervised has already cost a local child welfare agency a $9.2 million contract. But that may just be the beginning of the fallout. The Florida Department of Children and Families on Monday released details of a plan for an intensive review of Hillsborough County’s foster care system. DCF has assembled a team of nine child welfare experts to identify "systemic issues," including why the county removes more children than any other and how it cares for difficult-to-place older teens. Eckerd Connects, the county’s lead agency, last week fired nonprofit group Youth and Family Alternatives after finding instances of staff leaving older foster children alone. Eckerd Connects reported the agency to the state’s abuse hotline and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. "We will hold anyone who has failed our children fully accountable," said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. Hillsborough’s will be only the third foster care system to come under the scrutiny of a review team since Carroll became secretary in early 2014. He said the recent problems may be the result of the county having the state’s highest foster child population. Almost 4,000 Hillsborough children are either in foster care or at risk of being removed. The review will look at all levels of the system, including child protective investigations, counseling and other services being offered to families, the number of foster beds available and the number of children removed from homes.

New Zealand: Kiwi company ends controversial orphanage placements 

A New Zealand company that sends thousands of volunteers abroad will phase out links to orphanages amidst growing controversy over such placements. International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) is the latest "voluntourism" company to end orphanage placements. The company's size – at 18,000 customers a year it is one of the biggest in the industry – means the decision is a major milestone in the campaign against orphanage tourism. Organisations including Unicef have warned well-intentioned Westerners that children can be exploited to attract tourist dollars. In countries such as Cambodia the number of orphanages has increased as the country opens up to tourism and becomes more developed. A survey released last year by the Cambodian Government found as many as 79 per cent of the estimated 16,500 children living in 406 residential care institutions still had a parent, with families encouraged to send their children to relieve a financial burden, and some orphanages run as businesses. Friends International and Unicef have run a hard-hitting campaign featuring posters showing Cambodian children locked in glass museum cases, with Western tourists taking pictures. Amid such publicity, the world's largest school-based volunteer organisation, World Challenge, announced an end to orphanage trips, and for-profit companies including Intrepid Travel have made the same move. IVHQ has now joined their ranks.

Australia: Justice changes bring 'brighter future' for our youth 

As of Monday, 12 February, all 17-year-olds held in jail will be transferred from the adult prison population back to the juvenile justice system. About 70 young people will qualify for the transfer. This is one of the measures that will bring Queensland in line with the rest of Australia in terms of how we treat young offenders. Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women, Di Farmer, said implementation of the reforms fulfilled the government's commitment to breaking the cycle of youth offending. "The government will continue to drive reforms that tackle the causes and the consequences of offending by children and young people,” Ms Farmer said. All 17-year-olds on community-based orders will transfer to Youth Justice supervision and all 17-year-olds in adult custody will be eligible for transfer to a youth detention centre, if it is in the child's best interest and safe to do so. Court proceedings will transfer to the youth justice system if it is the first time the matter is before the court, following the completion of a hearing, where the hearing has been part-heard and where a community-based order is breached. The aim is to get more young people out of remand and back into the community where they can access better rehabilitation services. Supervised bail accommodation centres will be established to provide young offenders with a safe and secure place to live if it is not appropriate for them to return to the family home. State-wide, about $199 million will be spent on new infrastructure and rehabilitation support services for young offenders.

UK: London council to ask residents for voluntary tax to help homeless 

The wealthiest residents in one of London’s richest boroughs will be asked to pay a voluntary tax to help homeless people and other social projects. Westminster council in central London will write to those who own the area’s most expensive properties to ask about making a voluntary contribution on top of their council tax. Those who sign up to the scheme would see their council tax double to around £800 (€902). Money raised would go towards supporting homeless people in Westminster, funding youth programmes and tackling loneliness. The council said so far more than 400 homeowners living in multimillion-pound properties have responded positively to the idea. Nickie Aiken, Westminster City Council’s leader, said: “The voluntary Westminster community contribution offers a fair way for those who want to contribute more to do so. “I decided to act on a growing number of requests from some residents who live in the highest valued homes that they wanted to voluntarily contribute more than their existing council tax. “I am delighted that so many people want to support the initiative in its first year. It also confirmed what I had heard from people I had met on the doorstep that those in the more expensive homes are willing to contribute more to community projects.”

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12 FEBRUARY

UK: Children's services 'biggest pressure for councils'

Children's services are now the top immediate pressure for councils, a study has found. A survey of senior leaders at English councils by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) and the Municipal Journal found that children's services above adult social care for the first time in at least three years. The findings of the survey come just days after the financial crisis engulfing Northamptonshire County Council emerged – with the local authority issuing a "section 114 notice" banning any new spending with the exception of safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. The LGiU survey found that nearly all councils in England plan to raise council tax (95 per cent) and increase charging (93 per cent) to make ends meet this year; and two thirds of councils will be forced to dip into their reserves. One in 10 leaders fear their local authority will not have enough funding to fulfil their statutory duties in 2018/19. The survey also found that 2018/19 budgets will see activity further reduced in key community services, with 34 per cent of respondents highlighting youth centres as a vulnerable area.Department for Education figures published in November showed that there were 646,120 referrals to children's social care in 2016/17, up 3.97 per cent on the previous year. The rising volume of referrals has led the number of section 47 child protection enquiries – whereby councils must investigate if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm – conducted by councils rise from an average of 200 a day in 2006/7 to more than 500 a day in 2016/17. 

Wales: Caerphilly Council spending £16,500 a week for child’s care placement 

Caerphilly County Borough Council is spending £16,500 a week for a child’s care placement, it has been revealed. The admission was made by the council’s assistant director for Children’s Services Gareth Jenkins during an evidence session of the Welsh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee. The committee of AMs is looking at the cost of caring for looked-after children in Wales. Members were told that councils were struggling with a lack of residential care and foster carers. Mr Jenkins said Caerphilly currently had the highest in-placement care paying £16,500 a week for a child’s placement in London. He said it was the only placement in the country that would take the young person from a secure unit. He said: “We’ve been searching every day, every week, every month, which is why we are opening our own unit in Caerphilly for that one young person. “It’s probably the most extreme [example] I’ve come across in over 30 years in social work, but some of the numbers are creeping up there – £10,000, £11,000 a week.” Sally Jenkins, the head of Children and Family Services at Newport Council and chair of the All-Wales Heads of Children’s Services Group, described the lack of residential care and foster carers as a “crisis”.

India: 10k children, adolescents being treated for mental health ailments 

In Goa, a literate State where mental health allegedly stands neglected, over 10,000 children and adolescents are undergoing treatment for various mental ailments with ‘learning difficulty/disorder and slow learners’ topping the chart. “It is surprising that there is more attention given to physical health, and mental health issues of children are neglected. People find it difficult to address this issue,” Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Dr Sushma Kirtani said in a draft report on the Mental Health Policy. The Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour (IPHB) that provides assessment, intervention and inpatient services to children and adolescents, through its Child Guidance Clinic (CGC), handled 6280 cases from January 2016 to September 2017, whereas District Early Intervention Centre (DEIC), in North and South Goa district hospitals, treated over 4,000 children and adolescents during the same period. The commonly found mental ailments reported in children and adolescence in these centers include attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, autism/ behaviour issues, learning difficulty /disorder, cognitive/intellectual disability, adolescent counseling, motor delay etc. Of these, 2325 cases are of learning difficulty/disorder as per statistics from DEIC district hospitals, while CGC reports 660 cases of learning disability. CGC statistics further disclose that 947 children are slow learners. The draft report states that at primary health centres, mental health services are only limited to detection and then referred to secondary or tertiary centres for assessment and interventions. School mental health is looked after by trained medical officers (currently Homoeopathic and Ayurvedic Doctors) posted in all PHCs on a contract basis.

Australia given mixed score on indigenous 'gap'

Australia has made some progress in improving the lives of its indigenous people but not in four of seven key areas, an annual report card has found. The government's Closing The Gap report tracks targets aimed at reducing inequality between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the latest report showed improvement, but not in some areas – such as bridging a gap in life expectancy. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, who comprise about 3% of Australia's population, continue to experience high levels of disadvantage. "The last decade has given us a richer understanding about what works and what does not," Mr Turnbull told parliament on Monday. "Three of the seven targets are on track this year, giving us the most promising result since 2011." Those targets are reducing infant mortality, enrolling more children in early childhood education, and improving high school completion rates.

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9 FEBRUARY

USA: Critics say North Carolina's foster care system fails kids - what's being done about it

Concerns about North Carolina's foster care system are validated by the latest U.S. Health and Human Services report on the state. It shows the turnover rate for social workers is rising at an alarming rate. Between 2013 and 2014, it jumped from 23 to 28 percent. For the ones who stay, cases pile up. The report also found North Carolina Department of Social Services Department lacks consistency. Training, standards, and resources are different in each county. "They are in a system that is failing," State Senator Tamara Barringer told Eyewitness News. Barringer represents Wake County. She spent ten years as a foster mother and said change is long overdue. "We had children in our home that been locked in closets, trapped in car seats, not fed, brutalized. Babies who'd been sexually abused, things that are unspeakable. Things I wish I'd never seen but now that I have seen them, I can't be quiet," said Senator Barringer. Senator Barringer said her experiences helped her convince the legislature to pass the Family/Child Protection and Accountability act in 2017. Now, every three weeks Senator Barringer meets with a group of lawmakers and stakeholders from county DSS departments. The group is bringing in a third party to restructure North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services.

Australia: Child sex abuse – victims to receive national apology

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he will deliver a national apology to victims of child sexual abuse. Mr Turnbull's pledge follows the conclusion of a four-year inquiry that found tens of thousands of children had been abused in Australian institutions. The crimes, over decades, took place in institutions including churches, schools and sports clubs. The apology would be given later this year, Mr Turnbull said. "As a nation, we must mark this occasion in a form that reflects the wishes of survivors and affords them the dignity to which they were entitled as children, but which was denied to them by the very people who were tasked with their care," he told parliament on Thursday. The royal commission inquiry, which concluded in December, made more than 400 recommendations, including calling on the Catholic Church to overhaul its celibacy rules. "It is not a case of a few 'rotten apples'. Society's major institutions have seriously failed," it said. Mr Turnbull said his government would consult abuse survivors about what should be included in the national apology. He also called on state governments and institutions to join a national redress scheme for victims. "We owe it to survivors not to squander this moment," he said. The Australian government has already pledged A$30m (£17m; $23m) to the scheme, which would pay victims up to A$150,000 each. It would also provide counselling and other services. The inquiry heard testimonies from more than 8,000 victims, but it said the true number may never be known.

Scotland: Free online course could provide gateway to career in children's care and protection

The Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) has joined with FutureLearn, the digital education platform, for the second run of its massive online open course (MOOC) which delves into the details of the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. The course is free and provides participants with the chance to join over 5,000 learners from across 172 countries, who now understand just how important the UN Guidelines are when caring and protecting vulnerable children. Starting on 19 February, it is open to everyone who is interested in, or responsible for, children's care and protection. This course is designed for practitioners and policymakers from both state and non-state bodies (such as NGOs, CBOs and private service providers) and anyone working in providing services around children’s care. This might include social workers, para-social workers, community support workers, lawyers, psychologists, child protection professionals, teachers, medical workers and care workers, including those in family-based and residential settings. The course will also be accessible for people not working directly in this field and others with an interest or responsibility in the field of child protection and child care. It only takes a maximum of 4 hours a week to take part and it runs for six weeks. Course materials are available in English, with some materials available in French and Spanish. The course is led at with Dr Chrissie Gale who is International Services Lead at CELCIS. Chrissie has spent much of the last 22 years working on child protection programmes in different countries around the world.

Kenya: Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko has launched an operation to flush out street children from the central business district 

The governor said the operation was in line with his campaign pledge to ensure the children are taken out of the streets to orphanages and rehabilitation centres. “As a county government we promised to remove all street families from our streets, we have started an operation in line with my campaign manifesto that promised rehabilitation of street families in order to secure their future,” said Sonko after launching the operation on Tuesday night that was led by the county's Environment Rapid Response Team. Sonko said the rescued children will receive treatment for addiction at county rehabilitation centres and get life skills including enrolling them back in school. The governor said the initiative to rehabilitate street children will be continuous under his administration. Many street children are drug addicts who sniff glue, smoke bhang (marijuana) and inject other hard drugs. “The rescued street children will receive treatment of their drug addiction in the rehabilitation centers and we will also train the older ones on life skills and enroll the young ones back to school,” he said. Nairobi is one of the towns in the country with the highest number of street families running into thousands. 

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7 FEBRUARY

Canada: Resolutions on needs of homeless youth win ABA House approval, applause

 The needs of homeless youth were addressed in resolutions passed by the ABA House of Delegates on Monday. The ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty sponsored two resolutions at the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. Resolution 113 calls for “integrated, systemic approaches within administrative, civil and criminal court contexts to address the special needs of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness.” The measure was passed overwhelmingly. Meeting the legal needs of homeless youth is one of ABA President Hilarie Bass’ priorities for her year in office. Programming about the issue was offered at the meeting, including a trip last Friday to a homeless shelter in Vancouver. The second measure, Resolution 301, was also sponsored by the ABA Section of Litigation, and asked the ABA House of Delegates to endorse the General Comment No. 21 on Children in Street Situations issued in June 2017 by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The resolution was overwhelmingly passed, with no one speaking in opposition. The delegates applauded after the vote.

England: Fostering review – treat carers as the experts they are

 Advocates for radical reform to the fostering system in England should look away now. Sir Martin Narey, a government adviser on children’s social care and former chief executive of Barnardo’s, and Mark Owers, a children’s services adviser, have conducted a review for the Department for Education, and they are strikingly positive about what they have found. The care system has an undeservedly poor reputation, and fostering is a success story that rarely gets the credit it deserves, they say. Although they have strong views on how and why fostering could be improved, children in care are remarkably positive about fostering and their sense of wellbeing is “surprisingly high”, according to Narey and Owers. The review, conducted over the past six months and published on Tuesday, is based on interviews with and submissions from hundreds of people with an interest in fostering, including foster carers, care-experienced children and young people, fostering providers and social work leaders. It is eagerly awaited by the care sector, with many hoping it will bring about fundamental change. Last week Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network, wrote about his hopes that the fostering review would recognise the need for urgent reforms. The review rejects the notion that foster carers should be defined as professionals with the same status as, for example, social workers. And it warns of the adverse consequences of extending employment rights to foster carers. “This could negatively affect the heart of fostering,” write Narey and Owers.

Canadian youth sharing others’ sexts at alarming rate: study 

Forty-two percent of Canadian youth who’ve sent sexy or nude images have had one shared without their consent, according to new research from the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy, in partnership with TELUS WISE. The national survey of 800 young people aged 16 to 20, conducted last August, found that 41 percent of youth had sent one or more sexts, with boys and girls sending sexts at roughly the same rate. Meanwhile 30 percent of youth had shared a sext, whether by showing it to others in person, forwarding it electronically, or posting it to a public forum. Boys were more likely than girls to have shared a sext. “Our research supports the need for adults to differentiate between sending sexts and sharing sexts non-consensually,” says Faye Mishna, Dean and Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “Education and programs must take different approaches to each.” Perhaps most worrying for parents and teachers is that current strategies to stop non-consensual sharing of sexts – including awareness of criminal laws, household rules and education programs in schools – appear to have little to no impact. “An abstinence approach to sexting, which tends to focus on girls, just isn’t effective at preventing non-consensual sharing,” says Matthew Johnson, MediaSmarts’ Director of Education and the lead author of the study. “Our research shows that it’s a small subset of boys who are the most likely to share sexts, and that’s where we need to focus our educational efforts in order to stamp out this illegal and harmful behaviour.” 

USA: Young adults leaving foster care to get help from new program

Ohio has launched a program to help young adults who have aged out of the foster care system make the transition to living independently. The Bridges program provides housing and help with utilities, clothing and groceries to youth who leave foster homes on or after turning 18 but who are not yet 21. Cynthia Dungey, the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, says Bridges can be a helping hand many young adults need during a turbulent time. To be eligible, former foster kids must be in school, working, participating in an employment program, or have a medical condition that prevents them from going to school or working. The state is running the program through a contract with Child and Family Health Collaborative of Ohio. 

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5 FEBRUARY

USA: Texas youth prison guards allegedly choked teen unconscious

A Texas youth prison guard asked a teenage inmate if he was "ready to go to sleep" as he and another guard choked him until he lost consciousness, according to prosecutors. Authorities on Thursday arrested four guards at state-run juvenile lockups on charges of official oppression, including one who works at a Brown County facility and three who work at one in Gainsville, including the two accused of allegedly choking out a teen and a third accused of allegedly punching one in the face, tackling him and then pummeling his head and body. The arrests are part of a state investigation into the troubled Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Since last year, at least nine state juvenile correctional officers have been arrested on abuse or misconduct charges and another was convicted in July on charges of having sex with youth in custody. The unfolding crisis led Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to replace the agency's top leaders and independent ombudsman. He also launched a state investigation into the juvenile system that houses about 1,400 youth offenders, which was drastically downsized and overhauled in 2007 following a sex abuse scandal involving guards and teenagers. "There is no room among us for those who dishonor themselves and violate the public trust. These arrests improve the safety of the youth we serve," said Camille Cain, the new executive director over the Texas juvenile detention system.

UK: Free accommodation scholarship launched for care leavers and estranged students

Care leavers and young people estranged from their families could receive free accommodation whilst they study with Brunel University, thanks to the launch of this year’s Unite Foundation scholarship. Open to anyone aged 25 or under that is leaving care or estranged from their family, the scholarship aims to give recipients piece of mind that their accommodation is paid for the duration of their studies. Scholars will be entitled to three separate years of free accommodation at a Unite Students property within easy reach of Brunel University London, with the package including a single furnished en-suite bedroom in a purpose-built flat, a fitted communal kitchen, all household bills (including Wi-Fi) and access to on-site support teams. Flats are shared with other students, where possible from the same university, and often come with additional facilities such as laundry, fortnightly cleaning and bike storage. Brunel provides support to care leavers and estranged students throughout the whole process, encouraging students to engage and aim high. Professor Bill Leahy, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Brunel, said: “Unite’s generous scholarship gives those without a traditional support network much-needed financial security for the three years they’ll spend with us. “Spending time in care or being estranged from your family shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving an excellent education, and it’s with great pride that Brunel are able to offer this helping hand to those who need it.”  Care leavers may also be eligible for a Brunel Care Leaver Bursary, subject to conditions. The closing date for applications is 12pm on 11 June 2018. See more here.

Australia: A decade of charming children with music

If you think singing "Hey-Diddle-Diddle” and "Humpty Dumpty” to your toddler numerous times a day is mind numbing, then spare a thought for Leisa Johnston. Mrs Johnston has been singing nursery rhymes with our youngest residents for more than a decade. "This year marks my 11th year as a Kindermusik music educator,” she said. "More and more research is emerging on the benefits of music in early childhood development, and I've been fortunate enough to see this first-hand with many Toowoomba families over the years.” A recent study by the University of Queensland suggested that informal encounters with music at home as a shared experience between parent and child are critical for young children's development, with benefits above and beyond those of shared reading. Findings drawn from data from more than 3100 parents indicated that shared music-making at the age of 2-3 years correlated positively with increased school readiness, pro-social skills, and literacy and numeracy outcomes at age 4-5. "There is no doubt that informal music-making is a powerful tool for early social, emotional and cognitive development,” Mrs Johnston said. "Songs are a fantastic way to learn about the world. We learn numbers, body parts, the alphabet, colours, and so much more.” Mrs Johnston encourages every parent and their young child in Toowoomba sing and play music together. Mrs Johnston said teaching the parents is equally as important and helps them build up their database of songs and rhymes on CDs to use at home.

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2 FEBRUARY

UK: Government mental health plans 'lack early years focus' 

Government plans to improve mental health help for children and young people are missing an opportunity by failing to look at early years support, experts have warned. Giving evidence at a joint health and education select committee hearing into children's mental health provision, children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield and mental health expert Dr Pooky Knightsmith said there is a lack of focus on boosting mental wellbeing support for pre-school children. Their concerns follow the release last month of the government's children and young people mental health green paper, which details plans to improve support within schools but has no proposals around early years help. Longfield told MPs that focusing on early years support is crucial to identify mental health issues at the earliest opportunity. "I'd like to see a really comprehensive starting point that looks at children from birth and pre-birth onwards and recognises that problems develop along the way," said Longfield.

USA: Texas makes first potential move toward privatizing child welfare

In a pilot program meant to test privatization of child welfare services, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has appointed a nonprofit organization to provide family-based safety services to families at risk of child abuse or neglect in six Texas counties, including El Paso. According to DFPS spokesperson Patrick Crimmins, the nonprofit partner will be responsible for delivering all child welfare services with the exception of investigation and removal decisions, which will remain under the control of the Child Protective Services division of DFPS. The contract with Pathways Youth and Family Services, Inc. is expected to begin in March and cost the state somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million per year for two years, according to Crimmins. The pilot project will reach about 3,180 children across the six counties. The Texas State Employees Union anticipates the elimination of 55 CPS workers. Pathways CEO Dan Johnson has said he expects to hire 60 employees in the region. Amy Zachmeyer, an organizer for the union and a former CPS employee, said she doesn’t expect the pilot program to resolve the state’s underlying issues. “When something goes wrong, they can point the finger at the private agency and hire another private agency without addressing the root of the problem, which is that state programs across the board are underfunded,” Zachmeyer told the USA Today Network.

USA: Governor Cuomo nnounces $9.1 million partnership to find permanent homes and families for older foster children 

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has awarded the New York State Office of Children and Family Services a $5.1 million grant over four years to hire family recruiters for older children who have spent more than two years in the foster care system. The state will match the grant funds with $4 million to invest a total of $9.1 million to find permanent adoptive families for these children. "Every child deserves a family who cares for them in a safe and nurturing place to call home," Governor Cuomo said. "Through this partnership, New York will focus on finding permanent homes and devoted families for our children in need, while helping build stronger, more supportive communities across this great state." Children served under the Wendy's Wonderful Kids program are age 9 and above, have spent at least two years in foster care, and are freed for adoption or another planned living arrangement. This partnership will support the hiring of 24 recruiters to focus entirely on the experiences and needs of these children to help identify appropriate adoptive homes. There are currently no family recruiters working only for this segment of the foster care population in the Upstate New York area. There are 600 children who fall under the program's focus in the targeted counties of Albany, Columbia, Dutchess, Erie,  Montgomery, Onondaga, Orange, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Suffolk and Westchester.

New Zealand: An important moment in the history of human rights

Human Rights Commission welcomes Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care: "An important moment in the history of human rights". The Human Rights Commission has welcomed today’s announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister for Children Tracey Martin that there will be a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care. “I would like to pay tribute to those New Zealanders who stepped forward to share their personal stories of abuse: we are here because of them,” said Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy. “Today’s Royal Commission of Inquiry announcement is an important moment in the history of human rights in Aotearoa. We are looking forward to working with survivors, their families, supporters and Government as we look back at the past with honesty, empathy and a determination to make sure this abuse can never happen again.” The Human Rights Commission will continue to support and work with survivors, their supporters and Government as the Royal Commission of Inquiry process gets underway.  

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