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12 OCTOBER

South Africa: 22% of children in Cape Town have post-traumatic stress disorder

Worldwide between 10 and 20% of children and adolescents have mental health problems. In Cape Town, 22.2% of children met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, researchers at Stellenbosch have found. Today marks World Mental Health Day under the theme ‘Young people and mental health in a changing world’. Stellenbosch University psychology department senior lecturer Dr Jason Bantjes said 20.3% of university students experienced a mental disorder. Only about one-fifth of first-year students with a mental health problem receive treatment, he said. “Mental health problems among young people are serious. If left untreated, they can adversely impact young people’s social, personal and academic development. Young people with mental illnesses also face problems with social stigma, isolation and discrimination.” Bantjes conducts research on suicide prevention and the promotion of mental health, supported by a grant from the South African Medical Research Council. While genetic factors and temperament play a role in predisposing young people to mental illness, Bantjes says there’s evidence that early childhood adversity makes individuals vulnerable to mental and physical health problems. He added that the psychological well-being of children also suffers when their parents have untreated mental health problems. Bantjes says it remains a concern that in many parts of the developing world, young people with mental illness struggle to access effective evidence-based mental health care. “Common barriers to accessing care in low- and middle-income countries include ignorance about the signs and symptoms of childhood disorders, a lack of understanding about children’s emotional and attachment needs, a lack of suitably qualified mental health professionals, and inadequate child and adolescent mental health services.” The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) said it deals with hundreds of calls each day related to youth and mental health, from parents, teachers, universities and teens in need of help.

UK: Huge funding drop in children’s early help services, says charity

Budgets for ‘early intervention’ UK children’s services, designed to help prevent abuse and neglect spiralling out of control, have fallen over a quarter since 2013, says Action for Children. The charity says that ‘crippling cuts’ in government funding for local councils has seen these vital services slashed by £743 million pounds in the past five years, threatening the welfare of vulnerable children. Budgets for children’s centres across England have also fallen by £450 million, a fall of 42 per cent, yet budgets for safeguarding and children in care have increased by £597 million in the same period. The findings are based on newly-published statistics by the Government showing its planned local authority and school expenditure for 2018/19 and how it compares to previous years. Imran Hussain, Director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said the level of cuts was putting councils in an ‘impossible position’: “We know from our own work that without the safety net of well-funded early help services like children’s centres, thousands of children at risk of abuse, neglect or domestic violence are being left to fend for themselves until problems spiral out of control,” he said. “This failure to act with the right help, at the right time, will inevitably have devastating consequences for some children that last a lifetime. “As these figures clearly show, it also makes no financial sense to cut early help as councils are then forced to spend vast amounts on expensive crisis interventions, ‘firefighting’ problems after they have escalated. The Government needs to allocate additional, dedicated funding for children’s services at next year’s Spending Review. Without urgent action, we risk failing thousands more children across the country.”

USA: Psychology professor awarded $12.5 million to study adopted children’s development

A psychology professor will research how genetics and the environment impact adopted children’s health and development to the tune of nearly $13 million. Jody Ganiban, a clinical and developmental psychology professor, and two professors at other institutions received a $12.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health last month to study the mental and physical development of adopted children as part of a two-year-old project called the Early Growth and Development Study. The researchers said the five-year grant will kickstart the second phase of the project, which will focus on collecting data about children’s behavior, geographical location and genetic makeup. The project – which launched in 2002 as an independent study and became part of NIH’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes program in 2016 – will produce a better understanding of all aspects of child development that can be applied to future pediatric and clinical practices, researchers said. The outcomes program includes more than 30 studies that evaluate different factors that contribute to a child’s development. “Our game plan is to assess the adoptees and their adopted siblings who are not genetically related to them, but also to recruit the adoptees’ biological siblings who are still living with their biological parents,” Ganiban said. “So through that, we’re going to start to look at how kids with similar genes develop in very different environments.” The study formally commenced two years ago after researchers received a $3.2 million grant initiating the first phase of the study, which included basic data collection, she said. Ganiban said the new grant will pay for interviewers to travel to areas like the Netherlands, California and D.C. to study about 1,000 children and interview them and their families – a process that will begin in February. The interviewers are currently being trained by the NIH to ensure they will properly assess all the sites the same way, she said.

Scotland: Care leavers need more support, says NUS Scotland

More needs to be done to support care leavers and care experienced students to make sure they progress into further study or employment, according to the NUS Scotland students' union. New figures published by the Scottish Funding Council yesterday in its annual College Leaver Destinations report show that the proportion of college leavers in Scotland who moved on to positive destinations – ie, further education or work – rose by 3.3 per cent over the past three years. The data also reveals that among those who left college in 2016-17, the majority went on to employment (47.1%), while more than 40 per cent enrolled to study at university. The number of those who became unemployed or unavailable to work dropped from 12.4 per cent to 11.7 per cent. Crucially, of those students who remained in education at college or university, 86.3 per cent progressed to a higher level of study on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). NUS Scotland President Liam McCabe said the union welcomed the steady improvement in positive destinations for college leavers as they progressed into employment or further study. “Overall, it underlines the critical role of colleges in preparing students from a variety of backgrounds for the workplace or for the lecture hall,” he said. However, he added: “The statistics show that more needs to be done to improve access to positive destinations and employment for carers and care experienced students; we cannot take for granted the progress we have made for these students so far. We know the Care Experienced Student Bursary, aligned with the Scottish Living Wage, is vital to supporting students throughout their learner journey. We will continue to be relentless in campaigning for this level of support to be rolled out to all students.”

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10 OCTOBER

Australia: Abuse redress scheme comes under fire

A scheme to help survivors of institutional child sex abuse has been described as "insensitive" at a hearing to examine its rollout. The scheme, which emerged out of the royal commission into abuse, fails to understand the intense and differing types of trauma suffered by victims, advocates say. It was described by one person giving evidence before a parliamentary committee in Melbourne as an "appalling document". Care Leavers Australasia Network vice president Frank Golding told the committee the scheme offers "nothing" for the majority of victims. He said it could lead to victims being unwilling to come forward because of the difficult process involved to apply. "It's far from survivor-focused. It's designed to suit government and institutions," Mr Golding said. "It puts undue stress on survivors to articulate exactly what happened to them. It's believed the ones who are best with words will get the best outcomes." Mr Golding, along with two other witnesses, said the scheme was too focused on "penetrative abuse" and had failed to properly address other forms of abuse. Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency manager Jeannie McIntyre said parts of the scheme showed "blatant disregard" towards the work of the royal commission. "We're after a fairer scheme for all survivors of abuse," Ms McIntyre said. The scheme was set-up in July to provide access to counselling services for victims, direct personal responses from the responsible institutions and trauma payments.

Canada: Cannabis concerns addressed at MNL annual conference and trade show in Gander, NL

Municipal leaders across central are hopeful the upcoming legalization of cannabis will deplete the drug’s illegal market and keep it out of the hands of youth. Mayors and councillors from across the province attended an Oct. 6 lunch sponsored by licensed producer Aurora Cannabis. The dinner was part of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador’s (MNL) annual Conference and Trade Show, and was intended to spark conversations about the Oct. 17 legalization. Gander Mayor Percy Farwell says it will be a considerable challenge to keep cannabis away from young people, but he hopes it’s possible. “Through the regulations the intent is certainly there that it will take away access for youth,” said Farwell. “With the distribution predominantly taken out of the hands of the black market, there’s a much better chance of reducing usage among our young citizens.” Lewisporte Mayor Betty Clarke agrees that limiting the drug’s accessibility to youth is what stands out as particularly beneficial. Clarke also hopes the safety and health risks will be considerably lessened. “Rumour has it that marijuana on the black market can be laced with unknown substances, so I think legalizing cannabis will better protect people,” she said. Farwell says there are many concerns and stumbling blocks to be dealt with as legalization proceeds, particularly around impaired driving, and how to scientifically determine if a person is impaired from cannabis use. “I think we understand it will be a learning process,” Farwell said. “First and foremost, public health and public safety is where municipalities have their interest.”

UK: Stigma deters children from discussing mental health with teachers

Children remain reluctant to discuss their mental health with teachers, even after school staff receive training on how best to provide support a study has found. An evaluation of the first year of the Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) in Schools programme found that students in all six schools visited by researchers said the stigma and taboo associated with mental health remained a barrier to speaking openly. The Department of Health and Social Care-funded scheme aims to train a member of staff in every state secondary school in the country in mental health awareness by 2020. Over the first year of the scheme, more than 1,200 staff completed a one-day course on how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in young people and how to support them. The percentage of teachers reporting increased skills and knowledge of mental as a result of the training increased from 30 per cent before the course to 87 per cent three terms afterwards. But despite this, students said they still felt shy, awkward or feared being bullied. One year 7 boy from a school in north east England said: "I don't think anybody wants others to know due to bullying so I want the school to be more aware of bullying and kids that are getting bullied." Another child from a south coast school said: "I don't think people would feel comfortable going to a teacher." Teachers told researchers from the Institute of Education they would like to see mental health training included in initial teacher training, as they were seeing rising cases of mental health problems year-on-year. The report did show that in one school in north London that had introduced an anonymous box where children could report issues, a mental health club, and targeted assemblies following the MHFA training, 19 students interviewed by researchers all said they felt comfortable talking about mental health. 

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8 OCTOBER

USA: Sales of Juul e-cigarettes skyrocket

In just a year, sales of Juul electronic cigarettes jumped 641 percent, a new U.S. government study shows. The slim devices are especially popular among youth, and in recent months the Food and Drug Administration has taken steps to curb their use. But Juul sales rose from 2.2 million in 2016 to 16.2 million in 2017, according to the new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The devices, which are shaped like USB flash drives, had the largest share of the e-cigarette market in the United States as of December 2017, accounting for nearly 1 in 3 e-cigarettes sold nationwide. Juul also has among the highest nicotine content of any e-cigarette sold in the United States, according to the researchers. The CDC noted that nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development in teens and young adults. The FDA has recently taken measures to reduce illegal sales of e-cigarettes to youth. It sent more than 1,300 warning letters to retailers who illegally sold Juul and other e-cigarette products to minors. The FDA has also requested information from Juul and several other e-cigarette makers about their marketing, youth appeal and product design, including details on their plans to reduce youth use of their products. "There are no redeeming benefits of e-cigarettes for young people," Corinne Graffunder, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said in an agency news release. "The use of certain USB-shaped e-cigarettes is especially dangerous among youth because these products contain extremely high levels of nicotine, which can harm the developing adolescent brain." The CDC findings were published Oct. 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Canada: Latest numbers show that 681 youth are living homeless in Metro Vancouver 

Researchers have found that 681 people between 13 and 24 years old are living without homes across Metro Vancouver. This count was done over nine days in April by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association. Their report also found that “38 children (under age 25) were found with their parent(s) or guardian(s) while experiencing homelessness”. As we all know, living in Metro Vancouver has become quite expensive and that fact was highlighted in this report. When it came to the question of what was keeping the youth from finding a place to live, 58% of respondents reported rent was too high, “and/or that their income was too low or they had no income (55%)”. Some other key findings from the report include:

It’s important to note that the 2018 Youth Count was the first of its kind, and therefore no directly comparable homeless count data exists for the information presented in this report.

India: Centre mulls child protection policy for shelter homes

The Union Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry is set to come up with a new child protection policy for shelter homes across India that will fix accountability of all authorities involved. The development comes in the wake of recent instances of sexual abuse of minor girls at shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Sources in the WCD Ministry said that it had earlier come up with the guidelines drafted by the NGO Childline in 2013 before the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 came into being, but they were only a “wish list”. “Through the new guidelines, we want to ensure accountability so that when things go wrong, people in certain positions are answerable and there is more sense of responsibility in dayto- day functioning. We are looking at defining responsibilities of each stakeholder, including district magistrates and child welfare committees for the purpose,” said a top official in the ministry. The ministry will submit on October 8 the revised policy in the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case on Muzaffarpur shelter home sex abuse. 

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4 OCTOBER

Canada: First Nations child advocate says child welfare system 'eats up' Indigenous kids

A Manitoba First Nations children's advocate says the child welfare system "eats up" Indigenous children and is designed to keep their families at a disadvantage. Cora Morgan, with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, told the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women that the system is set up to apprehend children, not to support families. "Any challenges that our families are faced with, it's used against them instead of them being offered support. It victimizes our families," she said Monday. "A lot of these things are just perpetual. You can find five or six generations of a family where their children have been taken." The inquiry is holding hearings in Winnipeg this week and is expected to focus on child welfare. Morgan said violence against Indigenous women and girls can be linked to child welfare because it not only removes them from their families, but also takes away their identity and self-worth. "The system just eats up our children to the point where they lose value for life," she said. Manitoba has the highest per-capita rate of children in care and almost 90 per cent are Indigenous. The province said last week that the number of kids in government care dropped for the first time in 15 years to 10,328. Morgan told the inquiry about a mother who had four children, all of whom were seized at birth primarily because of poverty. Too much money is being spent on taking kids away from their families and not enough is invested in finding ways to keep them together, Morgan said. "You keep hearing our government say apprehension is the last resort but it's the first resort," she said. "It's always the first resort." Inquiry commissioners said they have heard about the effects of child welfare at every hearing. Qajaq Robinson said many people testified they were survivors of the system and that is "indicative of a huge problem." "Whether it's children, who as a result of their mothers being murdered, ended up in care or women who, as a result of their children being apprehended, lost financial support or lost housing and then ended up in precarious situations having to resort to survival sex work," she said, adding people are being failed in numerous ways. "Every jurisdiction we have been to, I have heard it personally from witnesses," Robinson said. Morgan gave the inquiry a list of recommendations including supporting First Nations-led initiatives to bring children home and to stop penalizing victims of domestic violence by taking their children away.

Fewer children in social care in Northern Ireland than rest of UK, according to new report

New  research has uncovered massive differences in children's social care between the four countries of the UK, with Northern Ireland emerging as the territory where young people are much less likely to be fostered or taken into residential care. This is despite the fact that the province has the UK's biggest percentage of children living in deprived areas. Now the researchers – headed by a University of Huddersfield professor – are investigating the reasons for Northern Ireland's lower rates and the lessons that can be learned. Policy makers should be profoundly interested in the findings, states Paul Bywaters in a new online article. He is Professor of Social Work at Huddersfield and a leader of the Child Welfare Inequalities Project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and involving experts based at seven UK universities. They include Professor Brid Featherstone, who is Head of the Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the University of Huddersfield. Latest outputs from the project include a co-authored article titled Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK that appears in the Journal of Social Work. Professor Bywater has also written Country matters: inequalities in children's social care, appearing on the CommunityCare website for the social work profession. The article, includes statistics which show that in Northern Ireland, 48 children out of every 10,000 living in the most deprived areas are looked after in foster or residential care. The equivalent figures for England, Wales and Scotland are 112, 135 and 188 respectively. Figures also indicate that children in Northern Ireland are more likely to be on the child protection register – meaning they stay with their families – than to be looked after away from their homes. "We don't yet understand the reasons for these large differences, which do not seem to be the focus of government interest. It is clear that within each country family economic circumstances and ethnicity are the most significant factors, but between the four UK countries other factors must be at work," writes Professor Bywaters. He adds that
"We estimate that if other countries had Northern Ireland's rates... there would be around 40 per cent fewer looked after children in England, 50 per cent fewer in Wales and 60 per cent fewer in Scotland. In England, this equates to around £1.6 billion per year, which could be available to spend on keeping families safe and together, just under 20 per cent of the total children's services budget."

Malaysia: UN expert says child marriages must end

A UN human rights expert has urged Malaysian authorities to redouble their efforts to end child marriages, and to establish a robust non-discriminatory child protection system.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, called on the Government to enter into a dialogue with religious communities and judges who continue to grant exceptions under “certain circumstances” that allow the marriage of children of any age under Sharia law. “I recognise the complexity of the parallel legal systems in Malaysia, including the differences between laws at Federal and State level,” said the expert, at the end of an eight-day visit to the country. “Child marriage practices in Malaysia are often driven by poverty, patriarchal structures, customs and misconceptions around pre-marital sex.” “To help a child climb out of poverty, you must educate her, not marry her,” one 15-year-old bride told the Special Rapporteur. De Boer-Buquicchio said there were encouraging discussions nationally spearheaded by the Deputy Prime Minister to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys and the momentum must be seized to put an end to this harmful practice that affects children irreparably. The predicament of children from vulnerable backgrounds such as refugees, asylum seekers, stateless and undocumented children was also source of serious concern, she said. Detention of young children at immigration depots together with adults should stop and alternative solutions should be provided immediately, the expert added. “In the absence of identity documents, children born in Malaysia to irregular and migrant workers have no access to public education, affordable healthcare and other welfare services and are particularly prone to become victims of trafficking for sale and sexual exploitation, child forced labour, including forced begging,” stressed the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur will present the findings and key recommendations from her visit in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019. 

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2 OCTOBER

Canada: New communications guide provides the tools to talk effectively to youth about cannabis

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) released Talking Pot with Youth: A Cannabis Communications Guide for Youth Allies. The guide provides parents, teachers, coaches and other youth allies the information and tools to have an unbiased, informed and non-judgmental discussion with young people about cannabis. “This is a guide to having a meaningful conversation about cannabis, not a lecture,” explains Chealsea De Moor, Knowledge Broker, CCSA. “Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach or another type of youth ally, this is a ‘must have’ guide for anyone in these roles.” Cannabis legalization is less than three weeks away. By releasing the Cannabis Communications Guide now, CCSA is delivering on what young people asked of us. They wanted the trusted adults in their lives to be able to have constructive talks with them about their thoughts and questions on cannabis. The three process-based exercises in the guide focus on helping adults prepare for and conduct a successful and honest discussion with a young person. It is important for young people to be aware of the health effects and harms unique to youth who use cannabis. One of the three exercises in the guide aims at getting the facts about the spectrum of youth cannabis use to young people. “Young people are turning to the Internet for answers, and they are getting mixed messages,” explains Kiran Somjee, RN, National Priority Advisor, CCSA. “Through the combination of open communication, knowledge exercises and the ability to establish a trusting relationship, the Cannabis Communication Guide responds to the need for an effective tool to help youth allies talk to young people about cannabis.” CCSA developed this unique guide itself by talking to young people. They said they wanted the facts about cannabis presented to them in a balanced and unbiased way. Youth expressed a desire to have the whole picture on using cannabis so that they could make their own decisions. Input from Health Canada as well as Canadian youth and youth allies contributed to the guide’s development.

Ireland: Rise in number of people becoming homeless after leaving State care

A growing number of young people are leaving State care and becoming homeless, according to one of the leading charities working in the area. Focus Ireland describes as “unacceptable” that 15 per cent of the care-leavers it is working with in Dublin are now homeless. Neil Forsyth, care services manager with the charity, said that while the numbers had “not gone up dramatically”, in the overall context of the housing crisis, “young people leaving care in particular are finding it increasingly difficult to find housing”. The number of 18-24 year olds in emergency accommodation has increased by 8 per cent in the past year – from 811 in August 2017 to 875 last month. Though not as dramatic as the 15 per cent increase in overall homelessness (from 8,270 to 9,527) – which is being largely driven by the increase in child homelessness – a disproportionate number of this age group are coming from the care system, according to Focus Ireland. It is working with 102 care-leavers across Dublin of whom 15 are homeless, and says it has 107 young care-leavers across the capital on its waiting list who are at risk of homelessness. “While most young people from a care background do transition successfully to independent living, it is unacceptable that now one in seven people using our aftercare service in Dublin is homeless or in unstable accommodation such as sofa-surfing,” said a spokesman. Focus Ireland is calling for ringfenced funding for accommodation for care-leavers and an increase in the number of Tusla aftercare workers to support them, to ensure a ratio of one aftercare worker per 20 young people.

UK: 'They have been failed': first school to address early-life trauma planned

The UK’s first school for children who have experienced early-life trauma such as neglect or abuse and are currently being failed by the education system could open within two years. The short-stay school would provide children aged four to seven with therapy and education to prepare them to rejoin mainstream schooling. The proposed Your Place academy in Norwich has had input from leading psychiatrists and psychologists and aims to create a template that could be copied elsewhere. Harmful early experiences including physical, sexual or emotional abuse, loss of a parent or exposure to drugs or alcohol in the womb can have a significant impact on a child’s social and emotional development. Schools often respond with behaviour management approaches such as isolation booths or, if those fail, expulsion. Existing alternative provision tends to be for older children and of variable quality. Daniel Thrower, an executive headteacher with the Wensum Trust, the academy chain behind the proposal, said: “Children experiencing significant early-life trauma have been typically failed in UK schools. This is not the school’s fault. “We wish to use and build on the knowledge we have gained through a two-year pilot project and combine this with the findings of the latest brain-based research, to support those children more effectively and, through the training arm of the school, educate and support fellow professionals.”

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