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News from the field of Child and Youth Care

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11 DECEMBER

NEW ZEALAND

Government ignoring student screentime health concerns

Family First NZ says that Government plans to add digital technology to the school curriculum are ignoring the growing concerns with excessive screentime for young people, accompanied by a lack of guidelines by education and health ministries.

“Although screen technology may be a beneficial aspect of modern life and an important part of the curriculum, the Ministry of Education is turning a blind eye to growing concern from health and development experts about the disproportionate use in many families’ lives, particularly the young in New Zealand. Parents, children and teachers remain unaware of the medical and developmental risks and the position of medical bodies on discretionary screen time. And the majority of children and adolescents in New Zealand, including toddlers, continue to significantly exceed medical guidelines,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“Yet the ages at which children start viewing screens and the number of hours watched per day is increasingly linked to negative physiological changes, medical conditions and development outcomes including significant sleep disturbances, attention problems and impulsiveness, and children are more susceptible to developing a long-term problematic dependency on technology.”

An April survey found that Kiwi 15-year-olds average 163 minutes online outside school each weekday, up from 98 minutes in 2012.

Family First’s concerns are based on previous admissions to Family First in 2014 from the Ministry of Health that they have only provide guidelines for screen time use outside of school time – (a maximum of two hours per day for 5-18 year olds) – and no guidelines at all for under 5’s or to the Ministry of Education or to ECE’s.

And the Ministry of Education told Family First: “It is up to individual schools to decide the extent to which they will use digital technology to support teaching and learning”, and “The Ministry has not undertaken specific research on appropriate amounts of daily screen time for young people.”

“The government and the Ministries of Health and Education are ignoring the growing concerns from health and development experts and the concerns of parents about screentime for their children.”

9 December 2017

Press Release: Family First

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8 DECEMBER

CANADA

Child and Youth Advocate responds to amendments to the Child and Youth Advocate Act

The tabling of legislative amendments providing for mandatory reporting of deaths and critical injuries marks a significant development for advocacy services for children and youth in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Proposed amendments to the Child and Youth Advocate Act will require the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development, and the Department of Justice and Public Safety to report all child and youth deaths and critical injuries to the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. This will apply to children and youth in care, protective intervention, kinship, youth services, and youth corrections programs, as well as children and youth at the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Centre, or temporarily housed in correctional holding facilities.

The Child and Youth Advocate, Jackie Lake Kavanagh, stated “Many children and youth who are in the care, protection or custody of government face the unique vulnerability of lacking the natural advocates and supports of their families. Increased oversight and advocacy services for these children and youth is needed to ensure their rights are protected. Mandatory reporting will create an automatic notification to ensure this can occur.”

The existing legislation already enables the Office to inquire, review, or investigate any matter related to the rights and well-being of children and youth, regardless of whether a complaint is received. This authority remains unchanged, and will be enhanced because of the mandatory notification requirements for the most vulnerable children in the system.

The Child and Youth Advocate recognizes the collective effort of all involved in developing this important legislative proposal.

5 December 2017

Source: Office of the Child and Youth Advocate 

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6 DECEMBER

UK

Careers strategy prioritises support for vulnerable and disadvantaged children

The government has said every school and college will be expected to have a designated careers leader in place by September 2018, and has set aside £4m to provide training and support for at least 500 schools in areas of the country that need the most support.

Most of England's 3,400 schools already have a member of staff with a designated role to co-ordinate careers activities within the school, sometimes called the "careers teacher", but the DfE said the title "does not convey the importance of leadership in this role".

"We believe that designating such people as ‘careers leaders' recognises the importance of the role and will help to build the status of careers guidance for their school," the strategy states.

The strategy adds that careers leaders will be expected to, when necessary, "prioritise careers support for disadvantaged young people who have fewer opportunities to get the right advice, guidance and experiences".

"This may include young people such as those eligible for the Pupil Premium, those with special educational needs and disabilities, or those classed as looked-after children and children in need by their local authority," the strategy states.

A further £2m of will go on trialling careers activities in primary schools with the aim of allowing children to meet employers from a young age and understand how the subjects they learn at school connect to their future.

Meanwhile, £5m will be spent setting up 20 careers hubs, led by the Careers and Enterprise Company, in disadvantaged parts of the country to link together schools, colleges, universities and local businesses.

Secondary schools will also be expected to provide pupils with at least one meaningful interaction with businesses every year, with a particular focus on employers from science, technology, engineering and maths – the so called "Stem" industries.

Launching the strategy, skills minister Ann Milton said: "Without access to the best possible careers support, some people will miss out on the opportunities available.

"They will continue to be held back if they don't have the right advice, at the right time to make informed decisions about their future, or may not have access to the broader experiences and role models to help them develop as people.

"It matters to me that we give people from all backgrounds the best possible preparation to move into a job, or training that enables them – whatever their background or wherever they live – to have a fulfilling life."

The strategy also reveals that the government will introduce new statutory guidance in January to make eight benchmarks created by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation the national standard for careers advice in schools and colleges.

The Gatsby benchmarks include a stable careers programme, personal guidance for each student, linking curriculum learning to careers and giving young people multiple opportunities for "meaningful" encounters with employers. The Careers and Enterprise Company will provide schools and colleges with tools to help meet the benchmarks during 2018 and 2019.

"I am very pleased that the Department for Education has put these benchmarks at the heart of its strategy," said Sir John Holman, senior adviser at the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. For the first time, schools and colleges have a clear description of what they need to get good career guidance for each and every student, whatever their needs."

Steve Stewart, executive director at Careers England said that while the proposals are positive, there is not much money attached to the strategy.

Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: "The association welcomes today's announcement as we have long called for young people to have access to informed and impartial careers advice and education embedded into the curriculum, from a much earlier age."

Russell Hobby, chief executive of the education charity Teach First, said: "The changing global economy and technological advances mean the world of work is evolving at a rapid pace. More than ever young people need support to make informed choices about their futures."

By Tristan Donovan

4 December 2017 

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4 DECEMBER

USA

Number of children in foster care continues to increase

Newly released foster care and adoption data show an increase in the number of children in foster care and an increase in the number of adoptions from the U.S. child welfare system.

Announced by the Children’s Bureau at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) show the number of adoptions from foster care increased from 54,000 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 to 57,000 in FY 2016. The number of children in foster care at the end of FY 2016 increased to 437,500 from the 427,400 reported at the end of FY 2015.

Of the 15 categories states can report for the circumstances associated with a child’s removal from home and placement into care, drug abuse by a parent had the largest percentage point increase, from 32 percent in FY 2015 to 34 percent in FY 2016. Approximately 92,000 children were removed from their home in FY 2016 because at least one parent had a drug abuse issue.

“The continued trend of parental substance abuse is very concerning, especially when it means children must enter foster care as a result,” said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for children and families at ACF. “The seriousness of parental substance abuse, including the abuse of opioids, is an issue we at HHS will be addressing through prevention, treatment and recovery-support measures.”

The Children’s Bureau at ACF recently awarded 18 grants totaling more than $12.5 million to help improve the well-being and permanency outcomes for children, infants and families who are affected by a parent’s or caregiver’s substance misuse, including opioid abuse.

Services provided through the regional partnership grants and the collaborative community court team sites will address needs for families experiencing substance abuse through various activities, such as early intervention, trauma-informed services delivery and family engagement.

“Families of children who come into contact with the child welfare system often are faced with complex problems and this is why we are allowing state and local communities to implement projects that address an array of needs,” said Jerry Milner, acting commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families and associate commissioner at the Children’s Bureau. “While our adoptions from foster care numbers are on the rise, reuniting or preventing a child from entering foster care is always our number one goal.”

The awards were made in September through the Regional Partnership Grant Program and the establishment of a National Quality Improvement Center for Collaborative Community Court Teams that will implement and support approaches to address the various needs of families with substance use disorders, including opioid misuse, who come to the attention of child welfare.

Addressing the opioid crisis is one of the three top clinical priorities at HHS, and the Department has committed to using its full expertise and resources to combat the epidemic. In April 2017, HHS launched its comprehensive, evidence-based opioid strategy that provides the overarching framework to leverage the expertise and resources of HHS agencies in a strategic and coordinated manner. The HHS opioid strategy aims to:

• Improve access to prevention, treatment and recovery support services
• Target the availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs
• Strengthen public health data reporting and collection
• Support cutting-edge research
• Advance the practice of pain management

30 November 2017

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1 DECEMBER

SCANDINAVIA

Study of WWII evacuees suggests mental illness may be passed to offspring

Mental illness associated with early childhood adversity may be passed from generation to generation, according to a study of adults whose parents evacuated Finland as children during World War II. The study was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Uppsala University in Sweden, and Helsinki University in Finland. It appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

The research team found that daughters of female evacuees had the same high risk for mental health disorders as their mothers, even though they did not experience the same adversity. The study could not determine why the higher risk for mental illness persisted across generations. Possible explanations include changes in the evacuees’ parenting behavior stemming from their childhood experience or epigenetic changes – chemical alterations in gene expression, without any changes to underlying DNA.

“Many studies have shown that traumatic exposures during pregnancy can have negative effects on offspring,” said study author Stephen Gilman, Sc.D., of the Division of Intramural Population Health Research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “Here, we found evidence that a mother’s childhood traumatic exposure – in this case separation from family members during war – may have long-lasting health consequences for her daughters.”

From 1941 to 1945, roughly 49,000 Finish children were evacuated from their homes to protect them from bombings, malnutrition and other hazards during the country’s wars with the Soviet Union. The children, many of them only preschoolers, were placed with foster families in Sweden. In addition to separation from their families, the children faced the stresses of adapting to their foster families, and in many cases, learning a new language. Upon their return, many children experienced the additional stress of readjusting to Finnish society.

During the same time, thousands of Finnish families chose not to evacuate all their children and often kept some at home, but little information exists on the rationale for their decisions. The researchers compared the risk of being hospitalized for a psychiatric (mental health) disorder among offspring of the evacuees to the risks of psychiatric hospitalization among the offspring of the siblings who remained with their parents. Studying the two groups – cousins to each other – allowed the researchers to compensate for family-based factors that can contribute to mental health problems and to focus instead on the evacuees’ wartime experience.

In a previous study, the researchers found that women evacuated as children were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder than their female siblings who remained at home. For the current study, the researchers linked records from this generation – more than 46,000 siblings born between 1933 and 1944 – to those of their offspring, more than 93,000 individuals born after 1950. Of these, nearly 3,000 were offspring of parents who had been evacuated to Sweden as children, and more than 90,000 were offspring of parents who remained in Finland during the war.

The researchers found that female evacuees and their daughters were at the greatest risk for being hospitalized for mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. In fact, the evacuees’ daughters had more than four times the risk of hospitalization for a mood disorder, compared to the daughters of mothers who stayed home — regardless of whether their mothers were hospitalized for a mood disorder.

The researchers did not find any increase in psychiatric hospitalizations for the sons or daughters of males who had been evacuated as children.

The study could not determine why the daughters of female evacuees had a higher risk of mental illness. One possibility is that the stresses of the evacuees’ experience affected their psychological development in ways that influenced their parenting style. Another possibility is that the evacuee experience resulted in epigenetic changes. For example, the researchers cited an earlier finding that Holocaust survivors have higher levels of compounds known as methyl groups bound to the gene FKBP5 and have passed this change on to their children. This higher level of methyl groups appears to alter the production of cortisol, a hormone that regulates the stress response.

“The Finnish evacuation was intended to protect children from the many harms associated with the country’s wars with the Soviet Union,” said study co-author Torsten Santavirta, Ph.D., of Uppsala University. “Our observation of long-term psychiatric risk that reached into the next generation is concerning and underscores the need to weigh benefits as well as potential risks when designing policies for child protection.”

The authors concluded that future studies are needed to understand how the experience of war affects the mental health of parents and their offspring and to develop interventions to help families affected by armed conflict.

29 November 2017

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
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