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29 NOVEMBER

USA: A new approach to helping foster kids in trouble with the law

Loyola Law School is preparing to launch a pilot program to help so-called "crossover kids" in Los Angeles County – children who are in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems. The program will use multidisciplinary teams to steer the young people away from incarceration and towards a high school diploma. "They are the most at-risk of at-risk kids," said Loyola Professor Sean Kennedy, executive director of Loyola’s Center for Juvenile Law and Poverty. "Foster youth already have the deck stacked against them when it comes to the criminal justice system." Under a new program funded by a $1 million grant from the Everychild Foundation, Loyola plans to train 36 law students to assist 300 youth over the course of three years. The Loyola students will work as part of collaborative teams that will include education advocates and social workers. "We have the power to fulfill a critical unmet need: the holistic representation of foster youth who have been charged with crimes," Kennedy said. An overwhelming majority of these kids in L.A. County are African-American or Latino. There are no good estimates of how many foster kids are caught up in the juvenile justice system – the county and state don't keep such records, Kennedy said. Estimates range from 7,000 to 20,000 statewide. Many crossover kids have been removed from abusive homes only to be transferred from one foster home to another, which almost always means a new school. Loyola’s Center for Juvenile Law and Policy regular represents these kids.

UK: Campaign to exempt care-leavers from council tax wins impact award 

A campaign to exempt care-leavers from council tax has been recognised with a national award. The initiative by The Children’s Society, which has been embraced by Lancashire County Council, calls on local authorities to exempt care leavers from paying council tax. Councillors in Lancashire, where there are around 830 care leavers, agreed to implement the policy. The Leaving Care Award – which highlights those doing the most to help young people who are leaving care and transitioning into adulthood -- was presented recently at the awards ceremony organised and hosted by Children and Young People Now magazine.  

USA: Kansas officials learn what it's like to go into foster care

FosterAdopt Connect hosted a pretty unique bus tour for elected officials, social care workers and healthcare providers Monday. It’s called the Journey Home Bus Tour, giving the participants a taste of what it's like for a child going through the foster system. Participants are assigned a child’s identity. The organization states the identities are based on the stories of real children. Participants are also handed trash bags to carry their belongings. Looking at the statistics on the walls at KVC Health Systems and interacting with physicians, child protection agencies, police officers and the courts, Kansas state representative Jarrod Ousley said the tour is an eye-opener. “It's traumatizing, it's heartbreaking. I can't imagine,” Ousley said. “It's a huge complex situation. I'm sure there's people that have been involved in the system for decades that still wouldn't claim understanding of it, but the more I know, the more impactful I can be.”  This is the third year FosterAdopt Connect has hosted this event. This is the first year it was held in Johnson County, Kansas.

UK: Woking children's home abuse – hundreds contacted by police 

Hundreds of people have been contacted by police investigating allegations of child sex abuse at a children's residential home. Officers have spoken to more than 200 people to "identify victims and witnesses", Surrey Police said. The investigation centres around a home in Woking, known as both Kinton Approved School and the Oaks Centre, from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Police said 17 people have been arrested or interviewed under caution. A spokesman for the force said: "We believe there are a number of others who may have committed criminal offences. We have active inquiries ongoing in liaison with Surrey County Council to try to identify these individuals where we do not have their full identity." Police said the number of children involved was unknown, but described the investigation as "large and complex". "New victims and new suspects continue to come to light as we speak to more people," the spokesman said. "At this stage we have over 1,500 inquiries that have been part of the investigation." In 2006, care worker Keith Hammerton, of Battersea in south London, was jailed for six years after admitting 10 counts of indecent assault on two teenage boys at the children's home. His victims were aged 16 or under, and the offences were committed between 1975 and 1981. The home, run by Surrey County Council, was closed in the early 1990s.  

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27 NOVEMBER

Canada: Report calls on federal and provincial policies to address child poverty in B.C.

A coalition of child and youth advocates says one in five children in B.C. lives in poverty, but immigrant kids, off-reserve Indigenous kids and those from visible minority backgrounds are even worse off. The grim reality of growing up poor is outlined in a report by First Call, which wants public policy initiatives including a commitment to early childhood development and economic equality to give kids a chance to succeed. The report says the child poverty rate in B.C. in 2015 was 18.3 per cent, representing 153,000 children, half of them living in Metro Vancouver, and that the overall rate is nearly a full percentage point above the national average. "The statistics on the depth of poverty show poor children in B.C., including those living with parents working full-time or part-time, are being raised on median annual incomes more than $10,000 below the poverty lines for their respective family sizes," the report says. Families on welfare, the majority of whom have disabilities or other health conditions, struggle to meet their basic needs, and frequently have to rely on food banks and other charitable sources to feed and clothe their children." First Call has made 21 recommendations, including a $10-a-day child care plan, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and providing affordable housing options to families struggling to pay their bills. First Call is also urging both provincial and federal governments to increase funding for First Nations child welfare, provide more education and community health services and to work with Indigenous organizations and communities to develop a long-term plan to address poverty.

USA: L.A. law school wins $1 million grant to help crossover youth

A Los Angeles law school has been awarded $1 million to advocate for the needs of Los Angeles County “crossover youth,” youngsters caught up in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems. The Everychild Foundation is giving the money to the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy (CJLP) at Loyola Law School to launch the “Everychild Integrated Educational and Legal Advocacy Project.” The project will center on supporting the needs of crossover youth in court as well as in school. According to a press release, one of the goals of the new investment will be to boost graduation rates for children involved with both systems. “Crossover children require a strong advocate to assure them the services and opportunities to which they are entitled, but most often denied,” said Jacqueline Caster, founder and president of the Everychild Foundation, in the press release. “Without this support, they are invariably pushed further along the proverbial ‘Pipeline to Adult Prison.’” A 2011 report on crossover youth in L.A. County found that many struggled to pursue higher education. Crossover youth were also three times more likely to land in jail than other foster youth, and twice as likely to have received treatment for a serious mental health issue. Earlier this year, a research brief found that 83 percent youth exiting an out-of-home placement in the county’s juvenile justice system had also been referred to child protective services at least once. Nearly 40 percent had been confirmed victims of child maltreatment. The project will train 36 law students to work with crossover youth over three years.  

UK: G4S youth jail beset by violence, vandalism and weapons, report finds

Surging levels of violence at an “unsafe” G4S-run youth jail have put staff in hospital and caused inmates to carry improvised weapons for their safety, inspectors have revealed. The damning inspection report into Oakhill secure training centre, near Milton Keynes, was published on Tuesday as MPs heard that ministers had ordered G4S to set up an external inquiry into abuse allegations at Brook House, the immigration removal centre at Gatwick, which is also run by the private security firm. The joint report by the prison inspectors, with Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, into Oakhill in September and October – when the centre was near capacity, with 75 boys aged 14 to 17 – finds “no evidence that staff can adequately care and control this volume of young people”. The report rates the youth prison as “inadequate” and says there has been an increase in fights and assaults since the last inspection in January; it records 330 assaults between March and August this year alone, with assaults against staff increasing, including against newly recruited staff, and some so serious they have led to people being taken to hospital. The inspectors say that many of the recommendations from their January inspection have not been met and the centre has deteriorated in most respects, including to do with safety, care, education, resettlement and the “effectiveness of leaders and managers”. They say that unacceptable behaviour, including swearing, intimidation and vandalism, is not being challenged by staff. The Home Office is considering whether or not to review the G4S contract at Brook House.

Australia: Northern Territory foster children mistreated, commissioner finds

Nearly 100 children were the subject of harm or exploitation in the Northern Territory's out-of-home care system in the past year, according to the Children's Commissioner. The commission's annual report, released in the wake of the youth detention and child protection royal commission, raised particular concern about an increase in the number of children mistreated in foster care. Children in the out-of-home care system have been removed from their families because of concerns for their welfare. There were four cases of sexual harm or exploitation of children in out-of-home care, but Commissioner Colleen Gwynne said the majority of incidents were found to relate to emotional abuse, followed by neglect. "The system requires much better screening, much better training and much better support of carers," she said. While Territory Families notified the commissioner of 91 cases of children being harmed in out-of-home care, a further 10 cases were discovered by her office. "If we found another 10 it begs the question, how many other cases are there?" Ms Gwynne said. Neglect remained the most common category of harm, and Ms Gwynne echoed findings of the royal commission by saying more intensive support for families could reduce the need for children to be removed. "Try [a] really early intervention approach to families and put some services around them," she said. "To make sure that the children don't end up in child protection after a number of reports, don't end up in the youth justice system, stay engaged in education, ensure that their cognitive levels continue to develop." She also drew attention the low number of Indigenous children placed in kinship care, a problem also identified in the royal commission's findings.

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22 NOVEMBER

UK: 'Vulnerable children have to reach crisis to get help'

Children facing abuse and neglect in England increasingly get help from local councils only when their problems reach a crisis, say leading charities. Services which intervene early to help families in difficulties are bearing the brunt of cuts, says their report. Relying on crisis intervention incurs a "devastating cost" both socially and financially, they add. The government says that providing help as early as possible is the best way to keep children safe. But the analysis by the Children's Society, Action for Children and the National Children's Bureau finds that councils are slashing preventative services "under the pressure of £2.4bn of central government funding cuts". Specifically, it says, central government funding for early intervention has fallen by £1.7bn since 2010. Over the same period, the number of child protection investigations has more than doubled, with spending on crisis support up 7%, at £6.1bn, says the report. Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, called the cuts "nothing short of devastating. Services that could intervene early to stop problems escalating have been the hardest hit. All too often central government shrugs off responsibility for council spending decisions but the figures are stark and undeniable. Councils are being denied the funding they need to provide safe, effective children's services and spending on vital support is collapsing as a result. We are at a tipping point with more cuts yet to come. The government must step up and give councils the funds they need to protect our children."

Canada: Ontario urged to make ending child poverty an election issue

Ontario’s proposed $15 minimum wage, legislation to address precarious work and a plan to double the number of licensed child-care spots for young children represent promising progress in the battle against child poverty, a new report says. But with a provincial election just over six months away, any gains could be swept away at the ballot box unless all parties make ending child poverty a key platform, warns Ontario Campaign 2000 in its annual report card being released today. “Children and families in Ontario need commitments from all parties to say enough is enough,” says the network of advocacy groups dedicated to eliminating child poverty. “It is time to work together to ensure ending child and family poverty is a top priority.” More than 475,000 Ontario children – or 17.2 per cent – are living in poverty, says the report, which uses 2015 taxfiler data, the most current available. That is slightly below the Canadian average of 17.4 per cent, or 1.2 million children, according to the network’s national report, also being released Tuesday.

UK: Children’s Commissioner to set up digital hub for children in care

The Children’s Commissioner is to establish a digital hub for children in care and care-leavers. The commissioner is seeking to build “a mobile-friendly digital platform featuring news, opportunities, and discounts for children in care or care leavers”. The site will also provide a “moderated platform [for users] to share their views, vote in polls and inspire and support their peers”. The site will be aimed at children and young people aged 13-25, the commissioner said. Young people with experience of being in care will be heavily involved in designing the site and providing content. “Through Children in Care Councils, there will be opportunities for young people to take on more in-depth roles in helping to support the hub,” said the commissioner. “This will provide pre-employability training and high quality, real work experience.” The long-term goal is that the site will become a stand-alone entity run, as a social enterprise, by young care leavers. “Children in care often lack the capacity to build the support networks and access the information that others take for granted,” the commissioner said. “Many children with care experience tell us that they miss out on opportunities and support, leaving them feeling left behind and ill-equipped to deal with the challenges they face.” The commissioner added: “Digital platforms can provide children in care with easy access to relevant information, advice and support wherever they are and whenever they need it. Young people in care have also told us that they would like more access to training, discounts or events. However, there is currently no national place online for children in care that meets this need.”

Netherlands: Violence in youth care – abuse lasts 7.5 years on average

Victims of child abuse while in youth care faced violence for an average of 7.5 years, according to a report by investigative committee Violence in Youth Care. More than half of the victims did not report the abuse, because the possibility of doing so did not exist, or because they were scared, RTL Nieuws reports. The committee, led by Micha de Winter, started an official investigation into psychological, physical and sexual violence in youth care in November last year. Their investigation spans from 1945 until present. The hotline set up by the committee received almost 600 reports of abuse. Most abuse cases took place in the 1960's and 1970's and in residential youth care facilities and foster care. Abuse often involved a combination of psychological and physical abuse, sometimes accompanied by sexual abuse. A large proportion of the victims report still having problems at work, in relationships and with social contacts. Many victims also still face physical consequences of the abuse, according to the committee. The De Winter committee was officially established to investigate abuse in youth care in November 2015 after a previous committee investigating sexual abuse in foster care found signs of even bigger problems.

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20 NOVEMBER 

USA: Engaging prospective transgender, non-binary foster and adoptive parents, a new guide 

Today, the Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) Foundation, released Promising Practices for Serving Transgender & Non-Binary Foster & Adoptive Parents, a groundbreaking new guide designed to help foster care and adoption agencies recruit, certify and support qualified transgender and non-binary adults to become resource parents for young people who need safe, welcoming homes. "With more than 100,000 young people awaiting adoption across the country, it is urgent for all prospective foster and adoptive parents, including trans and non-binary adults, to feel safe and welcomed in our nation's foster care system," said Mary Beth Maxwell, HRC's Senior Vice President for Programs, Research, and Training. "Discrimination and disrespectful treatment too often create significant barriers for transgender and non-binary people wishing to become resource parents. All parents, no matter their gender identity, deserve the same opportunities to welcome youth into their families, and this detailed resource provides agencies with the information and tools they need to make that a reality." The guide offers information on inclusive policies, practices, terminology, and the current legal landscape for LGBTQ prospective parents. It also provides safe and affirming techniques for trans-inclusive data collection, recruitment, and training for agency staff and volunteers. It's release coincides with National Adoption Month, which is marked every November. 

New Zealand: Former foster children demand Royal Commission of Inquiry

Former foster children are demanding a Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuses, saying the proposed ministerial inquiry could easily turn into a cover up. The new government has pledged to set up an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care. But a spokeswoman for the Care Leavers Australasia Network, Netta Christian, said survivors of abuse could feel fobbed-off by a ministerial inquiry, because it would be controlled and overseen by politicians. "What we want is a Royal Commission and that's non-negotiable," she said. New Zealand was the only Commonwealth country that had not yet held a Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse, she said. "The inquiry must be fully transparent, with the power to make referrals to police, and order reparations for victims and apologies from the state. It must be able to compel witnesses and access unredacted documents, it must not have cut-off dates and it must deal with structural changes to our systems." New Zealand should not make the same mistake as Australia and limit the inquiry to sexual abuse, which excluded many survivors, she said. The inquiry should cover all forms of "out of home care" – including homes run by churches and charities as well as the state – and all forms of abuse. In July, the National-led government rejected a petition signed by 12,000 people calling for an independent inquiry into state care abuse.

USA: Bill aims to prevent adoptive parents from abusing subsidy program

Lawrence Booker had been living apart from his adoptive family for around two years when he learned that his adoptive mother might still be receiving money for his care — money that could have gone a long way toward helping him instead. The situation Booker faced – a disrupted or broken adoption – is common enough that one New York children’s legal advocacy organization found that, at one point, roughly 20 percent of its voluntary placement foster care clientele had experienced it. The State Senate is currently considering a bill that would permit child welfare agencies to halt payments to adoptive parents who stop caring for their children, and in some cases transfer those payments to adoptees like Booker. “The phrase I hear all the time from youth is, ‘I feel like a paycheck,’” said Jean Strashnick, senior attorney for Covenant House New York, a nonprofit that provides housing for homeless youth, including many former foster youth. “The point of subsidies was a good thing, and most parents use it for the benefit of the child,” Strashnick said. “We’re really looking at the minority of cases with bad actors, either intentionally adopting children for the subsidy, or sometimes parents who don’t have the resources they need to care for children with diverse needs.”  

Australia: NT government pledges nearly $1m for youth rehab

The Northern Territory government has pledged almost $1 million for youth substance abuse prevention and rehabilitation programs. Labor has delivered the election promise three days after the juvenile justice and child protection royal commission's recommendations called for early intervention measures to curb youth crime. The Gunner government will invest $75,000 in drug and alcohol rehab and provide $240,000 in grants for projects preventing substance misuse. Health Minister Natasha Fyles says the funding will be targeted in Alice Springs and the East Arnhem region. "Applications are open for grants of up to $20,000 each for community projects or initiatives aimed at preventing youth substance misuse in the Northern Territory," she said. Applications are open until December 1.

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17 NOVEMBER

UK: Charities warn of 'devastating cost' of cuts to children's services

Local authority children’s services are being reduced to crisis-driven firefighting as a result of “crippling” central government funding cuts, according to a report. Three leading children’s charities are warning that early intervention services, designed to prevent problems escalating and children suffering a crisis, have been hardest hit by budget cuts. As a result, councils can only afford to get involved when children have already reached crisis point, which may then result in more costly interventions such as being taken into care, the charities say. The Turning the Tide report by the Children’s Society, Action for Children and the National Children’s Bureau says council spending on early intervention services, designed to spot signs of neglect and abuse, fell by 40% between 2010/11 and 2015/16. The £2.4bn government funding cuts come at a time of growing demand for children’s services, with a 108% increase in child protection investigations, according to the report. The report also claimed that the poorest children have been the hardest hit, with the most deprived councils in England cutting spending on children’s services by almost a quarter (23%), six times as much as the least deprived councils. Sir Tony Hawkhead, the chief executive of Action for Children, said: “Leaving local authorities without the necessary resources to help children and families at an early stage has a devastating cost, both in social and financial terms. With no long-term solution on the table, children’s services are on an unstable and dangerous footing. We’re calling on the government to prioritise the services children need before this crisis turns into a catastrophe for the next generation of children and families.”

Australia: Move to expunge Vic kids' care convictions

As many as tens of thousands of Victorian children who ended up with criminal records by being placed in state care may finally have their convictions expunged. The Victorian parliament has backed a Greens motion to start the process to erase the offences and deliver a formal apology. It is not known how many wards of the state ended up with convictions but the Greens say tens of thousands may be affected. Until 1991 children placed in state care were charged with being in need of protection, which then appeared on police criminal history records. The charges have been a source of confusion, frustration and anger for many care leavers, Greens deputy leader Nina Springle said on Wednesday. "Care leavers shouldn't be forced to carry these convictions any longer," she added. The problem stemmed from a failure in the old Victorian Children's Court system to distinguish between children in need of protection and those who committed criminal offences, with both protection and sentencing orders appearing on the same register. In a research paper released in August, RMIT University Professor Bronwyn Naylor said it was not clear that protection orders had the same status as criminal charges but people experienced the orders as though they were criminal. While the wardship records remain on file, police no longer release them as part of a police records check and acknowledge they are not related to criminal acts, she noted. All parties joined the Greens to support an official apology to children convicted for needing protection, Ms Springle added.  

Scotland: Gambling addiction support offered by youth charity

More young people are becoming addicted to online gambling. Support for young problem gamblers has been created by a youth charity in a bid to stem addiction. The online resource, by Scottish youth work charity Fast Forward, will be launched at the National Youth Work Conference, in Cumbernauld on Tuesday 14 November 2017. Designed for youth workers, teachers and other professionals who work with young people, the toolkit provides resources and lesson plans from short one-off sessions through to longer programmes. The activities can be used in various settings and by young people of all abilities. Alastair MacKinnon, Fast Forward’s chief executive said: “The toolkit recognises that gambling may be part of a young person’s experience growing up. It is not a new phenomenon and young people are aware of gambling and gambling-like activity through various routes including social media. It has a strong focus on education, on promoting awareness and prevention of harms.” Gerda Reith, professor of social science at Glasgow University, said: “Problem gambling undermines the potential of our young people, and erodes the wellbeing of our communities. Creating an environment in which children are protected from the harms it can cause requires a joined-up response. While policy and regulation are key, local education and prevention efforts are also crucial. Families, educators and members of the community all have a role to play in creating sustainable, healthy environments for our young people to grow up in. This is why I welcome and endorse the toolkit developed by Fast Forward.”

India: Government committed to eliminate child labour

New Delhi: Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi on Wednesday underlined the government's committment to eliminate child labour at the plenary session of a global conference at Buenos Aires, Argentina. She highlighted her government's efforts to fight child labour through the amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, as well as the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. Ms Gandhi said that the National Food Security Act, 2013, and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guaranty Act (MNREGA), 2005, are two other critical legislations which "provide a safety network to vulnerable communities and play a pivotal role in the prevention of child labour," according to a statement. At the IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, the WCD minister also described NGO Childline, which offers a telephone helpline for missing children, as the world's biggest facility for rescue of children in distressed situation.

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15 NOVEMBER

UK: Former ADCS president takes charge of residential care reforms

Former Association of Directors of Children's Services president Alan Wood is to chair the new Residential Care Leadership Board, the Department for Education has announced. The board was created to lead on the delivery of the changes to residential children's care in England that were recommended in Sir Martin Narey's 2016 review of the sector. Changes the board will oversee include encouraging local authorities to reduce the cost of children's home placements by working together on commissioning, and ensuring that best practice in residential childcare is shared and put into practice. The board will also lead the roll-out of the Staying Close scheme that aims allow young people leaving residential care to keep in touch with their support network. "We have some excellent residential care for our children but nationally our system needs to be able to provide flexibly for a wider range of need," said Wood. "All local authorities and providers have a vital role to play in ensuring provision matches needs and resources are used most effectively. "The Residential Care Leadership Board will work to build a strong partnership across the sector focusing on developing its range, promoting improvement where it is needed and celebrating its successes."

New Zealand: Newly-funded research targets mental health needs of Maori youth

A study will explore if an e-screening tool can increase the rate of mental health assessments in youth, and make it easier to disclose sensitive information. Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith, academic head of the Department of General Practice & Primary Health Care at the University of Auckland, has just been awarded $624,349 to explore the feasibility and acceptability of YouthCHAT – an electronic screening tool – across primary care settings with large Māori populations. Funding comes from the Health Research Council of New Zealand’s (HRC) first initiative with the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases (GACD) – a collaboration of 14 health research funding agencies from around the world. In line with the GACD’s global call for mental health research this year, the HRC partnered with the Ministry of Health to provide up to $2 million in funding for research to better support Māori and Pacific youth with mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorders. Professor Goodyear-Smith hopes the e-screening tool will reach those adolescents who aren’t currently accessing help.  

UK: Longfield calls for action to tackle informal exclusions

Appearing before the House of Commons education select committee, children's commissioner Anne Longfield said she is concerned that a number of schools are forcing or "encouraging" children with behaviour issues to leave school. She told MPs that the situation is leading to a rise in home education and that many pupils involved have special educational needs. "I've been inundated with conversations from local authorities about this," she said. "They have been telling me on a very regular basis for at least the last six months that they can see a rise in the number of children who are being either excluded from schools or encouraged to move from schools. Longfield said that at a recent conference involving council representatives many told her the number of home education children in their areas had doubled, with some saying numbers had trebled. She added: "We estimate that 50,000 children are being home educated. Probably only about 25 per cent are the 'philosophical' parents doing it for philosophical reasons. "So often it is because the child is seen to not get on with the school, or the school not get on with the child, and the school then encourages families to look for another approach. "For me the fundamental rights of children to a good education is something that is paramount." 

USA: Class-action lawsuit in Arizona seeks a ‘remedy for all kids in care’

A lawsuit filed against Arizona’s child welfare and mental health systems was granted class-action status last month by a federal judge. The recent decision by U. S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver is significant because it ensures that a positive ruling in the suit will benefit all kids in the state’s foster care system. “By granting our motion for class-action certification, the court is allowing us to speak for all kids in foster care,” said Harry Frischer, lead counsel for Children’s Rights, which is one of the firms representing the plaintiffs. “This is important because it clears the way forward for a remedy for all kids in care and not just the kids listed in the complaint.” The suit, filed in February of 2015, names the directors of the Department of Child Safety (DCS), the Department of Health Services (DHS), and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) as defendants. Included among the state’s struggles, according to the complaint, are a “severe shortage of mental, behavioral and other health services, failure to conduct investigations of reports that children in care have been maltreated while in state custody, a severe shortage of foster homes and failure to engage in basic practices for maintaining family relationships.” 

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13 NOVEMBER

UK: Minister calls for special unit for children convicted of sex offences

A specialist unit could be created for children and teenagers convicted of sex offences, a Government minister has suggested. Phillip Lee said he had been encouraging the Ministry of Justice to examine whether the measure may be needed to hold those responsible for "dark and very troubling" crimes. He told MPs: "There has been a small uptick in sexual crimes in young people. We had an 11-year-old convicted of rape last year. "This is quite concerning. I think we are at the very early stages but I have encouraged the department to start thinking ahead in terms of do we need a special unit for children like this. "It's very small numbers but the crimes are quite dark and very troubling. That is also in the mix in terms of how we see the structure of the future youth custody estate." Although the numbers held in youth custody have fallen sharply in recent years, those held over sex crimes are making up an increasing share of the overall population. In the year to March 2016 there were 92 under-18s in detention for sexual crimes on average. Dr Lee told the Commons justice committee: "The management of the area that I'm responsible for, the under 18-year-olds, is extremely difficult. "Governments of all political colours have done some good work in terms of reducing the numbers of people that we're holding. But we have been left with a very, very challenging cohort of individuals. I think the department recognises that." Last year ministers unveiled plans to hold young offenders in "secure schools" rather than youth jails. The proposals were drawn up in response to a review which called for "fundamental change" to the system. 

South Africa: School to bridge special needs gap

There is hope for children with learning difficulties as Gauteng gears itself to open a new school with specialised programmes, expert occupational therapists and a therapeutic environment. The Bridge, an assisted learning school which will open in January, targets children that are not necessarily catered for in either mainstream or special needs schools. The school will be based in Beverley, Lonehill, and will cater for pupils from Grade 0 to 7 who have challenges such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mild autism and anxiety. “There is a tremendous need for a school focused on assisting pupils to bridge the gap between where they find themselves, and mainstream schools. Ultimately, the goal is to help each pupil reach their full potential and develop strategies that will enable them to return to a mainstream classroom confidently and empowered,” said principal Retha van Niekerk. She added there was a distinction between remedial schools, of which there are a number of providers in the country, and assisted-learning schools which are in extremely short supply despite the tremendous need. “Because of our small classes which are capped at 12 pupils, an individualised learning approach, and therapeutic programmes, we are able to assist learners who are cognitively on par or ahead of their peers, to address whatever the challenge is that has kept them from succeeding in mainstream schools." “Assisted learning schools that tackle these challenges holistically have significant impact,” Van Niekerk adds. The Bridge will provide learning, therapeutic and support interventions to develop skills and self-esteem.  

USA: Alternatives to youth detention: success highlighted in Ohio

Putting children who get into trouble on the right path can be challenging, and a newer approach to the problem is seeing great success in Ohio. This week, juvenile justice, child welfare, and public safety leaders are at the inaugural Ohio Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Conference in Columbus. The initiative focuses on evidence-backed practices that can help safely reduce the number of youth in detention. State JDAI Administrator Regina Lurry says the initiative started in five Ohio counties eight years ago, and now there are 10 involved. "In Ohio, we are making some great strides,” she states. “We've reduced the number of commitments to the Department of Youth Services by 70 percent. And not only are fewer kids going in detention, their average length of stay is also being decreased by 26 percent." Lurry says even short stays in detention can have a negative impact on a young person's mental and physical health, academic success and financial outcomes as an adult. The JDAI model encourages better collaboration among systems involved in the juvenile justice process, as well as data-driven placement decisions and the use of community based detention alternatives for nonviolent juvenile offenders. Nationally, participating JDAI sites report improvements in average daily detention population and public safety outcomes.

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10 NOVEMBER

Los Angeles Board Of Supervisors votes to launch ‘historic’ juvenile diversion plan

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt an ambitious plan to divert thousands of the county’s youth away from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, connecting them instead to a comprehensive array of supportive services. Speakers stepped to the microphones to declare their ardent support for the 78-page report, “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in LA County,” which provided the framework for the sweeping strategy proposed. “This is an historic day in the history of justice reform,” Dr. Robert Ross told the board. Ross is president and CEO of The California Endowment, one of the largest foundations in the U.S. “We know that 80 percent of the youth now being arrested in the county could be diverted to community-based services if the plan is realized,” he said. The county could “lead the nation.” The report said that 13,665 arrests and citations were issued to the county’s young in 2015, according to the Department of Justice Statistics. And approximately 11,000 of those 2015 arrests – “including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies” – would have been legally eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation under the California Welfare and Institutions Code, had the proposed program been up and running.

Push to end orphanage tourism gains further momentum

The push to end Australia’s involvement in orphanage tourism has gained further momentum, with another major organisation planning to stop sending volunteers to overseas orphanages. Projects Abroad, a leading volunteer organisation which has facilitated trips to overseas orphanages for over two decades, announced it will cease its partnerships with these institutions at the end of the year. Australians heading overseas to volunteer at orphanages (known as “voluntourism”) is a popular practice, which has been facilitated by the tourism industry for years. But advocacy agency ReThink Orphanages has led a campaign to end the supply of Australians to these institutions, because of the “very strong links” between children in orphanages and modern slavery. General manager at Projects Abroad Australia, Will Pashley, told Pro Bono News that this decision came at the end of a “fairly long process” researching the orphanage industry. Projects Abroad has committed to shifting all its childcare-focused volunteer work from orphanages, and other residential care facilities, to community-based childcare by the end of the year. “There’s a good model in Cambodia where we work with a local partner, which supports families. These offer more of a holistic range of services for some of the poorer families in the region,” Pashley said. “It’s looking at communities and working with local organisations to see where we can appropriately fill those gaps.” Greg Thomson, the CEO of Projects Abroad, said this new strategy was key to building a better future for children currently in residential care.

Colombia makes progress on child labor: study

The number of children working in Colombia has fallen by nearly 300,000 in the past four years but child labor remains rife in rural areas, researchers have said. The percentage of children aged 5 to 17 working in the South American country dropped to 7.8 percent in 2016 from 10.2 percent in 2012 - equivalent to 291,000 children - according to a report by the National Union School (ENS) research center. While Colombia’s child labor rates have fallen, about 850,000 children still work and are not in school, either full-time or at all, said the report, which was released on Tuesday. Most children are found working in the agriculture, cattle ranching and forestry sectors, as well as in hotels and restaurants, the report said. It is still common to see children working on city streets as vendors and cleaning car windscreens, as well as on farms. “It’s indisputable that as long as working conditions of adults don’t improve, children will continue to be part of an alternative generation of income for families,” the center, based in Colombia’s city of Medellin, said in its report. Further driving child labor rates are local cultural attitudes, under which work is seen as character building for children and as a normal part of development, the report said. Under Colombian law, children under 15 are not allowed to work and no child can be employed in a hazardous job that poses a risk to health or life. Hundreds of children in Colombia have also been forcibly recruited by gangs to work as couriers of drugs and arms, according to human rights groups. “Child labor is one of the conditions that most affects the development of children in the world and in Latin America,” the report said.

YouTube accused of 'violence' against young children over kids' content

YouTube has been accused of “infrastructural violence” against children due to its role in the creation of vast quantities of low-quality, disturbing content aimed at pre-schoolers. James Bridle, a campaigning technology-focused artist and writer, documented the way the video platform’s algorithmic curation drives enormous amounts of viewers to content made purely to satisfy those algorithms as closely as possible. Bridle highlights videos with names such as “Peppa Pig Crying at the Dentist Doctor Pull Teeth!” – a pirate Peppa Pig episode in which “she is basically tortured, before turning into a series of Iron Man robots and performing the Learn Colours dance”– and “BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video”, which is an indescribable mixture of low-quality 3D models of Disney characters, violence, nursery rhymes and surrealism. He writes: “These videos, wherever they are made, however they come to be made, and whatever their conscious intention (ie to accumulate ad revenue) are feeding upon a system which was consciously intended to show videos to children for profit. The unconsciously-generated, emergent outcomes of that are all over the place. “What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse.”

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8 NOVEMBER

UK: Experts urge training drive to boost mental health support for children in care

All carers and professionals who work directly with looked-after children should receive mental health training as part of a range of efforts to boost support for them, a government-appointed group of experts has recommended. The expert group, which was set up last year by the Department of Health and Department for Education to improve mental health support for children in care, said those working closely with looked-after children, including foster carers, children's home staff and special guardians, often lack training to support their often complex mental health needs. A report by the group calls for all those working with looked-after children to receive specific children and young people's mental health training "so they are equipped with the appropriate skills" to support them. This should have a particular focus on managing behavior and be consistent across sectors, so that all professionals and carers are adopting the same approach, the report adds. "This collaborative approach would both provide those at the frontline of supporting our young people with the resources to respond to and contain a range of behaviours and mental health needs, and ensure that everyone involved in their care is coming from the same understanding and knowledge base. A study published by Barnardo's in September found that two thirds of care leavers with mental health problems are not receiving specialist support.

USA: L.A. County to debate sweeping juvenile diversion plan

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week will consider a plan to divert thousands of youths at the point of arrest, shielding up to 80 percent of juveniles in the county from probation and permanent records. “Board action is now necessary to guarantee youth have access to supportive services instead of arrest and incarceration, which is morally imperative and fiscally responsible,” reads a motion put forward by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn for Tuesday’s meeting. Back in January, the board opted to create a standardized juvenile diversion plan for all parts of the county, citing the high cost of juvenile incarceration and the need to leverage effective diversion efforts already in place. Over the past several months, a group of stakeholders, including members of law enforcement, county agencies, advocates and community-based organizations, worked to create a framework for a county diversion plan. According to that plan, “A Roadmap For Advancing Youth Diversion In Los Angeles County,” a new Office of Youth Diversion and Development (OYDD) would be created and staffed within the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry. With a goal of keeping as many young people out of the justice system as possible, OYDD would divert young people who admit to low-level offenses to community alternatives. 

Police report sharp rise in sexting cases involving children in England and Wales

The number of sexting cases involving children has more than doubled in two years, police figures have suggested, leading a senior officer to warn about deficiencies in proper sex education. Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs Council’s lead officer on child protection also raised concerns about extreme pornography being shared among young people, and social media sites acting quickly to take down such material. He spoke as police forces in England and Wales released data on Monday showing they registered 6,238 sexting offences in 2016/17 – a rate of 17 every day. That represented an increase of a third on the tally of 4,681 in the previous year and of 131% on 2014/15, when 2,700 cases were logged. The data relates to recorded offences involving indecent or prohibited images of children, where the suspect or offender is younger than 18 years old. Police said reports come from children as young as 10, with cases peaking around the age of 14. Boys are as likely as girls to be recorded as suspects or perpetrators but girls are more likely to be recorded as victims, according to the data. The trend for sharing explicit images among youngsters has emerged as a challenging issue for authorities amid fears that children and teenagers could be routinely criminalised over the behaviour. The NSPCC said the rise in sexting incidents was “extremely worrying”, adding: “It is vital that parents and schools talk to children about the dangers of sexting as soon as they are given any technology.” 

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6 NOVEMBER

British Columbia: Young voices get a hearing

Young people who are pushed out of government care at age 19 too often disappear into a life of poverty and neglect. As far as the rest of society is concerned, they are out of sight and out of mind. The consequences are devastating for young lives when people without preparation and supports are tossed into a world for which they are ill-equipped. On Tuesday, dozens of those young people had the ears of 41 government officials, including Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy and Premier John Horgan. The youth came with stories, but more importantly, they came with policy recommendations. They said that those who age out of care should be able to count on three things until their 26th birthdays: consistent financial support (housing, transit and food), long-term relationships with dependable adults, and a chance to connect with and contribute to their communities. These are not new requests. Former representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond repeatedly pointed out the terrible cost of abandoning young people because they reach an arbitrary birthday. She challenged B.C.’s universities to help by offering free tuition to former youth in care. Vancouver Island University was the first to take up the challenge, and others have followed. But education is only part of the solution. The loss of social and financial supports is the biggest blow. The lack of supports is a major reason that a disproportionate number of these young people are homeless, poor and in trouble with the legal system. After years in foster care, they don’t have anyone they can count on for the long term and they haven’t learned many of the skills they need to cope on their own. The civil servants and ministers heard. Now they must turn that knowledge into policies that will make a difference for youth in care.

UK: Increase in number of children on protection plans

Statistics published by the Department for Education show that as of 31 March this year there were 51,080 children on child protection plans, an increase of 770, or 1.5 per cent, on the 50,310 recorded in 2016. The number of referrals to children's services, defined as a request for services to be provided by children's social care and is in respect of a child who is not currently in need, also rose. In 2016/17 there were 646,120 referrals, a 3.97 per cent increase on the 2015/16 figure of 621,470. It represents the second highest figure this decade, behind the 657,790 referrals recorded in 2014. Last month the Association of Directors of Children's Services called for a review of Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which sets out local authorities' responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area classed as "in need". Ray Jones, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University and St George's, University of London, said the figures highlight a "crisis" in social care. "With child protection workloads in England now at a record high, but with fewer families overall getting help from local councils, the impact of cuts in government funding for local government is creating a crisis which threatens the welfare and safety of children." 

Stats indicate more than 91 000 child brides in South Africa

The Community survey 2016 results released by Statistics South Africa indicate that over 91 000 girls in South Africa between the ages of 12 and 17 are married, divorced, separated, widowed or living with a partner as husband and wife, with the latter forming the majority of the group. “These shocking statistics paint a dire picture for the emancipation of young African children and women,” says Prof Deirdre Byrne, Chairperson of the Unisa-Africa Girl Development Programme (UNISA-AGDP) launched to promote girls’ rights and highlighting gender inequalities. Byrne says that according to the 2015 Africa Index, 9 of the world’s 10 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa. “Although the South African stats are lower compared to the rest of Africa, which represents 125 million of the 700 million world-wide child-brides (or 17 percent), the fact that child brides are a reality in South Africa, a country with one of the world’s best constitutions, is frightening. “UNICEF found in a study in 2015 that more than one in three of these African women and girls (over 40 million) entered into marriage or union before age 15. If current trends continue, almost half of the world’s child brides in 2050 will be African.” Byrne says child brides are a toxic combination of regressive gender norms that make families regard daughters as sources of revenue, instead of as treasured family members. “The only vehicle to decreasing the number of child brides is through education and these appalling statistics only highlights the need for placing girl’s education at the top of the agenda and the relevance of launching the AGDP programme.”  

UK: Families of child sexual abuse victims threaten action against government

Lawyers acting for families whose children have been victims of rape, sexual assault and harassment by fellow school pupils have stepped up action against the education secretary, Justine Greening, with a letter threatening judicial review proceedings. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is funding a legal challenge against the education secretary, which accuses her of failing to act to protect children from sexual abuse and harassment by their classmates. A report published a year ago by MPs on the women and equalities committee revealed shocking levels of sexual abuse and harassment of schoolgirls who complained it was a part of daily life, often dismissed as “banter” by some staff. Ministers have since accepted the need for fresh guidance to schools on how to handle allegations of rape, abuse and harassment between pupils, but families of victims are horrified at the delay in releasing the new guidance, which might not come into force until September 2018. The families are demanding to know the precise release date for the new guidance to schools. They want the government to update its Keeping Children Safe in Education guidelines to include more robust advice requiring schools to protect the victims and their right to education, and to consider suspending the alleged perpetrator.  

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3 NOVEMBER

British Columbia: Representative for Children and Youth releases report on education for youth in care

As a group, youth in care do not do as well as other youth in school. Only 51% of youth in care graduate from high school, versus a 90% graduation rate for the general population. The Representative for Children and Youth has released a report addressing issues around education for youth in care on October 26 called Room for Improvement: 'Towards Better Outcomes for Children in Care' The report advocates for the provincial government to take action to reduce significant gaps in the academic achievement of children and youth in care, including the provision of specific funding to each school district dedicated to supporting the learning needs of these students. The report also calls on the Minister of Education to strengthen accountability for the academic achievement of students in government care, and for the Ministry of Children and Family Development to ensure that children and youth in care are supported to recover from trauma so that its impact on their learning is reduced. Read the full RCY report here

UK: Foster carers housing lone child refugees to receive specialist training

The government has announced specialist training for 1,000 foster carers looking after unaccompanied migrant children, ahead of a key court ruling on a decision to wind up a scheme under which child refugees are brought to the UK. The announcement comes as ministers face criticism for the UK’s failure to accept any child refugees from Greece or Italy since the Dubs scheme to help settle lone child asylum seekers was created last year. Only 200 vulnerable children have been brought to the UK under the scheme; a further 280 places offered by councils around the UK are currently unfilled. A court case brought by the charity Help Refugees will rule on Thursday morning on the legality of a government decision not to continue with the Dubs scheme, designed to bring vulnerable refugee children in Europe to the UK. The charity launched a legal challenge in the summer on whether the government had failed to implement the Dubs amendment properly. Robert Goodwill, minister for children and families, said: “Child refugees are some of the most vulnerable in our country and it is vital that we support them as they build safer lives, often in the care of new families. Foster carers do an incredible job, but they must have tailored support to help them deal with the complex needs of these children.” The new training scheme for foster carers and support workers will get £200,000 in funding between 2017 and 2019, the government said. An additional £60,000 investment will provide a package of revised guidance, information and resources for councils.

UK: Social care providers dismayed by government sleep-in shift announcement

Care providers say they are “dismayed” after the government failed to commit to paying a potentially devastating back pay bill for sleep-in shifts. In a long-awaited announcement on Wednesday, the government said it would give care providers 15 months to compensate staff who were underpaid for the shifts, which require workers to stay overnight in care facilities in case of emergency. In the past carers were paid a flat rate for the work. But after a recent ruling they are now entitled to an hourly minimum wage and compensation for six years of back pay – a cost care providers are expected to bear. The liability could leave the learning disabilities sector alone facing a cost of some £400m, while children's homes may face a bill of between £40,000 and £2m each. It is a bill many organisations say will bankrupt them if the Government does not step in. "Having to pay that amount would drive medium to small providers out of business," said Derek Lewis, Mencap's chair of trustees. Under the government's proposed solution to the problem, care providers will opt into a "compliance scheme" which will give them 15 months and HMRC support to identify and pay what they owe workers. It is a programme the government says has "been designed to help ensure workers are paid what they are owed, while also maintaining important services for people who access social care". But providers have criticised the scheme, and have urged the government to commit to financial help with the bill.

USA: Foster care report: More youth in system, fewer beds

A report released this week examining foster care in the United States found there are an increasing number of children in the system nationwide and, in many states including California, a decrease in accommodations for those the children. The Chronicle of Social Change, an online publication that released the report Wednesday, found there are about 433,000 foster youth in the U.S. in 2017. Of those, an estimated 60,766 live in California. Only 13,744 of those have been placed with nonrelatives. The number of those placed with relatives was not available in the report for 2017, but in 2015 18,319 California foster youth were with family members. “I don’t think there’s any question we have established there is a shortage,” said Jim Kenny, a retired licensed clinical psychologist who founded the group Adoption in Child Time. “We’ve had a major cultural change since we established the foster care system in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Today, it takes two wage earners to support a family, not just one. That results in the lack of a stay-at-home parent.” According to the Chronicle of Social Change report, one of the factors contributing to the increase in foster youth is related to drug use. “Federal and state officials have attributed the increasing foster care totals to removals related to substance abuse, particularly opioid abuse,” the report noted. Child Welfare Service program manager Alison Phongsavath said that is a factor in Humboldt County, but it’s not officially tracked on a case-by-case basis.  

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1 NOVEMBER

UK: Young people surveyed about care experiences

Young people leaving care will be asked for their views on their experiences in a survey being sent to local authorities. Coram Voice, who advocate on behalf of children who are in or leaving care, have linked with the University of Bristol to develop the survey based on a literature review of care leavers’ views on their transition to adulthood. The Your Life, Your Care survey has already been delivered in several local authorities and its authors say many have already started to implement service developments as a result. The literature review covers 80 UK studies exploring care leavers’ own accounts of their experiences and feelings on leaving care, relationships, responsibilities and life after care. It reveals that young people felt too little attention was given to preparing them emotionally for leaving care, and for some, independence had come too soon. Linda Briheim-Crookall of Coram Voice said: ‘High-quality local authority services to children in care and care leavers must be grounded in an understanding of children and young people’s own experiences and views, not simply adult perspectives on their lives. ‘Our literature review gives us valuable insight into care leavers’ experiences and forms a vital part in the development of our new survey to measure care leavers’ subjective wellbeing.’

Australia: The potential for a new kind of Stolen Generation is very real in parts of far north Queensland

Its members are the scores of young offenders from dysfunctional families who are taken from their homes by authorities for their own safety. It is well-known in the far north Queensland city of Cairns that many of the young criminals hail from the infamous "Three M" suburbs – Manunda, Mooroobool and Manoora – areas notorious for high youth-crime rates. Now a group of elders is working with Indigenous families to try to stamp out youth crime in the region and to tackle a growing problem of young people being removed from their homes. The Indigenous Community Elders Group is working to show families how their child's home life might be leading them to offend and what they need to do to stop their children being rehomed by authorities. Group member Josephine Akee said there was no question Indigenous youth crime was a problem in far north Queensland. "We are saying 'yes this is happening' and we are realising we need to do things with and for our youth so that we can get them to steer themselves down another path," she said. "At this stage we are working with youth who are in detention and are coming out. Before they hit the streets and reoffend. "We can't help our youth unless we help their parents so they can understand how they've been operating, give them information and support so they can figure out [the problems at home] for themselves."

South Africa: State's sad roll call of children trying to find their dads

While a social media campaign continues to name and shame absent fathers who do not pay maintenance for their offspring‚ the Gauteng department of social development is trying to track down the biological fathers of more than 600 children‚ some of whom may not even be aware that they are fathers yet. In an advert that listed 776 children for purposes of placing them in foster care in case their biological families do not come forward‚ the majority were trying to trace biological fathers‚ and only a few the mother. Xaba Mbangwa‚ spokesperson for the department of social development‚ said that if the department fails to locate the biological families‚ the children will be placed in foster care or be given up for adoption. “As the department‚ we are the custodians of children. As soon as a child is without a parent‚ we take parentship. Some of the children on the list have mothers‚ but after identifying that the mother is an unsuitable parent‚ we then continue the search of the father. “The opposite is also the case. We look for fathers because we want to give each parent a fair chance to come forward. Currently the children are in the care of government‚ at child and youth care centres where they stay from day one till they are 18 years of age.” said Mbangwa. The children listed in the advert were mostly born in the 2000s‚ making them younger than 18 years of age. In some cases‚ the department was looking for foster-care placement for the children concerned. 

UK: Government urges councils to prioritise housing for domestic abuse victims

Councils will be "strongly encouraged" to prioritise social housing for children and parents who have fled domestic abuse under new guidance proposed by the government. The Department for Communities and Local Government said it wants councils to give victims of domestic abuse who are living in refuges and other types of safe temporary accommodation to be given as much assistance as possible to access social housing. The proposed statutory guidance will "strongly encourage" local authorities to waive residency requirements for access to social housing for people living in refuges or similar accommodation who have moved across council boundaries to escape domestic abuse. In addition, the guidance will tell councils that victims of domestic abuse who are living in refuges should be treated as in need of social housing on both homelessness and welfare grounds. Councils will also be asked by the guidance, which is being consulted on until 5 January 2018, to use their existing powers to help tenants who are victims of domestic abuse stay in their current home if they wish. "Domestic abuse is a devastating crime with complex challenges that extend far beyond the boundaries of local authorities," said communities minister Lord Bourne. "That's why we're committed to providing local authorities with the robust guidance they need to improve victims' access to the long-term and secure housing they need to rebuild their lives."

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