Ofsted comment was inaccurate
As Somerset County Council cabinet member for children and families, I would like to respond to the factually inaccurate letter from the opposition spokesman for children and families printed last week.
Her letter referred to the recent Ofsted inspection into children in council care that rated the overall standard of Somerset's provision as "Adequate".
She accuses the leader of the council, John Osman, of "seeming to believe that 'Adequate' is good enough for our Somerset children".
The exact opposite is the case. Mr Osman has stated both in private and in public that "adequate" is not good enough, as I also believe and have stated.
I refer the opposition spokesman to the words of the council chief executive officer immediately after the Ofsted report was published: "Somerset County Council aspires to so much more than being 'Adequate' in how we deliver services to children in our care … our politicians have made clear their intention to hold officers to account in ensuring a drive towards better outcomes and higher standards."
This is crystal clear. We do not accept that "Adequate" is good enough. We have already taken steps to improve. We are recruiting more social workers to help deal with the huge rise in numbers of children in care – it is worth noting that just a few years ago there were about 300 children in our care, now there are well over 500.
The opposition spokesman knows this and knows the reason behind that rise, which is linked to the Baby Peter Connolly scandal, something totally outside this council's control.
She also knows about the improvements we are seeking to bring – she knows this because she is part of the cross-party membership of a newly created Improvement Board to answer the Ofsted criticisms.
She also knows that the council leader has neither said nor implied that "Adequate was good enough" and I call on her to withdraw this factually inaccurate letter.
Frances Nicholson, Somerset County Council cabinet member for children and families
26 July 012
Massachusetts leads nation in child well-being, study says
Massachusetts is the second-best state for child well-being, according to a national study looking at health, education, community and economic factors.
The rankings were announced Wednesday and outlined in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2012 Kids Count Data Book. The annual study, which analyzes areas of child "well-being," gave its highest overall marks to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont, while Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi received the lowest overall scores.
The report is based on the most recent federal data, primarily from 2010, which looks at "well-being" indicators in the areas of health, economic stability, education, and family and community. This year's report marks the first time 16 indicators rather than 10 were used to rank states. Study experts this expanded methodology provides a more comprehensive look.
Although Massachusetts scored high across the board, it received top scores in education and health care, grabbing the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively. It also came in at No. 10 for family and community and No. 11 for economic well-being.
Noah Berger, the president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a nonpartisan research and policy group, said he believes the high scores in health and education are the direct result of laws that have overhauled those systems in the state.
He pointed to the 2006 health care law, signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, which requires nearly all state residents to have health insurance or face penalties. It has been credited with providing a blueprint for President Barack Obama's 2010 federal health care law.
Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, the executive director of Health Care For All, a group that advocates for affordable health care, said the results of the study don't come as too big a surprise.
"I appreciate the findings about health care that echo what we already know at Health Care For All," she said, pointing to the nearly universal coverage among Massachusetts children. Whitcomb Slemmer said she hopes other states see similar results in the future as they move forward in implementing pieces of the Affordable Care Act.
Aside from health care, Berger said, the state's focus on improving its education system is also reflected in its high ranking.
"Massachusetts has historically made significant investments in our schools and enacted similar reforms to improve schools," he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick signed an education bill in 2010 to allow for more charter schools in the state's lowest-performing schools districts. It also included measures aimed at closing the achievement gap between students of different economic backgrounds. Later that year the state adopted national standards for English and math curricula.
Despite these high scores, Berger said, it's important to continue working on improving the lives of Massachusetts children.
"The danger is that if we let our commitment slide, we could lose the advantages we have," he said.
According to the study's national analysis, from 2005 to 2010, the number of children living in poverty-level households rose by 2.4 million, with child poverty rates rising in 43 states.
But while economic indicators declined over this period, education and health care indicators generally increased, with more high school students graduating on time and more children getting health care coverage.
The Associated Press
25 July 2012
Second Five-year Plan to Protect and Look After Children
Children represent 49% of the Sudanese population, a premonition that necessitated handling child care with extra dedication. The National Childhood Council hosted a workshop to prepare the second five-year plan to protect and look after children, after the expiration of the first one from 2007-2011, one during which a number of projects were implemented.
Head of the Planning, Research, and Training at the National Childhood Council Mohammed Ahmed Musa presented the five-year plan as follows:
The plan's vision covers the realization of safe,
stable, luxurious, and serene childhood for the children of Sudan. Another
aspect of the plan is analyzing the weakness and strength points, available
opportunities, already-existing mechanisms, political, social, economic, and
technological factors. Current issues must be discussed as well, issues such
as: birth registry, child labor, war children, children involved in
altercations with the law, female circumcision, homeless children, children
with no parental care, , children separated from their families, children
accompanying their mothers in prison, disabled children, and early marriage.
The strategic goal of the plan is to secure a safe environment for children in Sudan through: Unifying visions among concerned authorities, securing children's rights and protecting them from all kinds of violence, exploitation, mistreatment, and negligence, and finally supporting children's issues and making sure they are handled the right way.
The main goals of the plan though are: Activating laws, issuing legislations, formulating policies, devising plans and strategies, developing the childhood information center, performing research and studies, building the capacities of social workers, raising awareness, changing negative conceptions and practices, building and strengthening childhood protection mechanisms, and ensuring that children get all their rights including health care, education, and development.
Along with a plan, an array of projects –projects to be implemented from 2012 to 2016- were presented. The workshop has contributed to enhancing the plan for example adding a number of projects to plan related to providing care to children without parental care and homeless children. The workshop has also shed light on exerting more effort on showing solidarity regarding children's issues and the necessity to issue more policies in the field of protecting children especially the disabled ones and the ones forced into labor. The workshop also called for strengthening the mechanisms pertinent to child protection in armed disputes.
24 July 2012
Vulnerable children need commitment
Even the good news about Arizona's child-welfare system isn't that great.
In focusing her three-day series last week on glimmers of hope in a crisis-driven system, The Arizona Republic's Mary K. Reinhart looked at programs that prevent abuse, keep families together and move children out of foster care.
In each case, Arizona provided shrinking or no state
Yet these services are an integral part of an effective child-welfare system.
Taking a child into foster care is a traumatic event that can cause lasting emotional scars. Even children who have been abused or neglected love their parents.
Yet record numbers of children have been entering foster care in Arizona.
It is in a child's best interest to be in a permanent, loving home, either with biological or adoptive parents.
Yet children are staying in foster care longer in Arizona.
In a successful federal grant application, state officials admitted what they resist telling you: High caseloads, Arizona officials wrote, mean caseworkers don't have time to "comprehensively review the child's history to locate and recruit potential adoptive or permanent caregivers."
Yet Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter says he won't know if he needs more workers until his efficiency improvements have a chance to work.
Arizona won the grant, and starting in August social-work teams will focus on more than 1,000 foster children who are considered hard to place. They will get services to heal their emotional scars and champions to find them forever homes.
The $11.5million grant will expire in three years.
If history repeats itself, Arizona will not pick up the tab to keep it going.
More than a decade ago, $10million in federal funds launched Arizona Families FIRST. It helped thousands of parents kick their substance-abuse habits and keep their children or reclaim them from foster care. Reduced federal funding and state cuts left the program with less money today than it had in 2001, when at the same time more children are in foster care.
Children who are homeless, in foster care or living at home with an open Child Protective Services case are automatically eligible for Head Start or Early Head Start, which offer enrichment to children and a variety of programs to strengthen families. But only a fraction of those can be accommodated. State funding was cut in recent years. The entire cost of Head Start in Arizona is covered by the federal government.
The Legislature eliminated all funding for child-care subsidies for the working poor. First Things First, created through a voter-approved tobacco tax, provides $10million so Arizona can qualify for federal matching funds.
It's convenient to blame Arizona's recent budget shortfall for what CPS lacks, but the problems of understaffing and underfunding at CPS predate the tough times. It's commitment to these vulnerable children that's been missing.
Now Great Recession budgets combine with increasing numbers of children in the system to compound the problems.
Last winter, Gov. Jan Brewer said she was expecting "fabulous results" from her child-safety task force, which was appointed after the deaths of children who had been left in unsafe homes by CPS workers.
The group focused mostly on the narrow slice of criminally abusive parents, and produced important legislation that was passed last session.
But the children in foster care -- about 13,000 kids -- and the vulnerable kids whose homes are not safe need a system where "fabulous results" include a commitment to adequate staffing, effective prevention and other services for families, as well as an unwavering emphasis on permanence for children.
The Arizona Republic
21 July 2012
Wasting Money, Wasting Human Lives
A youthful mind is a terrible thing to waste. Wasting 97 out of every 100 minds is unforgivable and shameful. That is what is happening with the foster system in America. Fewer than 3 percent of foster youth ever gain the benefit of a college degree that they desperately need.
Imagine changing homes and high schools twice or more times per year. Imagine not being encouraged to take college track classes even though you want to go to college. You are adrift and most likely behind in your classes, and you have no one advocating for you and your success. This is the experience of many foster teens. On our watch. Right now. And the outcomes of permanently broken lives are dire in human and financial terms, for these young people, and for America.
But First Star, an innovative nonprofit organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of America's abused and neglected young people, is seeking to change the course of these teens' lives.
Of the 400,000 youth in the foster system nationally, 19,000 are in Los Angeles County. Our county has more foster kids than any other county and more than some states. What better place to create a new model than right here?
The new model First Star is developing would provide a stable home and schooling, caring adults, and a supportive community connected to a college or university. First Star's unique model would: 1) create a supportive community for foster youth and foster parents housed in one or more apartment buildings next to a university campus, 2) recruit a different type of foster parent, 3) place the youth in better-than-average high schools, and 4) engage the formidable resources at each university to help foster teens and foster parents thrive.
First Star is working with experts at cross-town rivals UCLA and USC to create "villages" for these foster families. As a pilot program, we hope to start in Fall 2013 with 8 to 12 foster family units at each campus. Each family will consist of one or two foster teens and one or two foster parents. The families would live in an apartment building next to each university campus. The families would act as a "village" to raise these kids and provide lifelong connections to their "tribe."
We are recruiting a new type of foster parent -- people who are college educated and have middle to upper-middle incomes and want to have a profound effect on a teen's life. Some of these foster parents may legally adopt their foster teen(s). How are we going to engage these prospective foster parents? We are looking in places others have not, focusing on people who are drawn to the opportunity to dramatically improve a young person's life. First Star will recruit foster parents from the pool of mature Ph.D students, university faculty and staff, and empty nesters, especially those attracted to long-term, life-changing volunteerism akin to the Peace Corps 50+ model.
Initially, the teens will attend their local high school or charter school. Youth at the UCLA location would attend University High School. Uni High is a Digital Media Magnet School, has four small-specialized schools, and has an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 718 (out of 1,000). For teens at USC, we are pursuing enrollment in a new pioneering charter school, Hybrid High School, founded by Professor David Dwyer of USC's Rossier School of Education. Hybrid High, opening in Fall 2012, will create personalized learning plans and use technology extensively. We might decide in the future to establish our own charter school(s).
The fourth unique element in our model involves engaging the university community to support and enrich the lives of the foster teens and parents. First Star has done this brilliantly at UCLA with the Bruin Guardian Summer Academy. For details see my previous post. Last summer 30 foster teens spent five weeks living in a sorority house across from the UCLA campus. They participated in daylong programs and activities (including videography and Tai Chi) that provided the academic, social, and emotional preparation necessary to be successful in college and the skills necessary to successfully transition into young adulthood. The year-round academy would incorporate similar programs and activities in addition to sports events, tutoring, and mentoring to take full advantage of the more than 100,000 students, faculty and staff at each university.
Once we have built and tested the prototype, we plan to expand the USC and UCLA programs and replicate the year-round academy at other colleges and universities across the country. We tested aspects of the prototype at the Summer Academy last year at UCLA and have brought the kids back this summer. The Summer Academy is being replicated at the University of Rhode Island this summer, and several other universities are in various stages of adopting our Summer Academy model. Those institutions could form a distribution system for the year-round academy model.
Being a foster child should not mean you are consigned to a life that wastes your potential. We as a society cannot afford to waste anything -- especially the minds of our youth.
18 July 2012
State foster care contracts shift in focus
Texas is on the verge of signing contracts that will fundamentally change how foster care is provided in the state, refocusing it on providing quick, successful assistance to the children and their families, officials told a House committee Monday.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services plans to finalize contracts by Sept. 1, placing two private organizations in charge of all foster care services in two Texas regions for the first time, the agency’s commissioner, Howard Baldwin, told members of the Texas House Human Services Committee.
Currently, 28,000 children are under state supervision and 17,000 are in paid foster care, Baldwin said.
The department developed the new contracts during a process it called Foster Care Redesign, which began in 2010 and seeks to improve the physical and mental health of children in the foster care system without increasing state spending on the program, according to Baldwin.
“We currently lack a critical mass of foster homes and residential care facilities and supporting services in many places in this state,” Baldwin said. “So the goal is to get those services out into the communities, because children sometimes have to be moved away from their home community, their family and other support systems.”
The two contracts in final talks are with the nonprofit Lutheran Social Services of the South, which will be responsible for foster care in South Texas, and the for-profit Providence Service Corp., which will work in West Texas.
Currently, children are often transferred around the state depending on what services they need and the availability of those services. Under the proposed contracts, the private agencies would be required to provide all the necessary services close to a child’s home, and the state would hold those organizations financially responsible.
“We think if we can keep the kids close to home and the parents are cooperative that we can get those kids home faster, they don’t have to grow up in foster care,” said Audrey Deckinga, assistant commissioner of Child Protective Services.
Child advocates said they agree the Texas foster care system needs an overhaul, but expressed concern about the new approach.
“I fear children being sent home prematurely,” said Susan Etheridge, executive director for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Collin County.
Lobbying groups worry the organizations that get the contracts will not listen to the needs of foster families and the service providers. None of the groups opposed the redesign overall, but they asked the Department of Family and Protective Services to closely monitor the organizations.
17 July 2012
Former Foster Child Defies
Statistics. Author Shares Journey To Self-Love
More than 408,000 children nationwide are living in foster care, according to a 2010 AFCARS study. Even more startling is that after “aging out” or emancipating from the system, many of these individuals experience homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration, among other unfavorable outcomes.
In her inspirational and candid memoir, From Foster Care to Fabulous, Capri Cruz shares her experiences growing up in the child welfare system and her parallel struggles with abuse, sexual molestation, self-medication and racism. Along with sharing her story, Cruz’s memoir is also a guidebook to self-transformation, aimed at empowering individuals to take control of their lives and embrace their full potential.
“We must learn that our current problems are not ‘the worst,’” says Cruz. “What seems like an impossible situation is really just an opportunity- a challenge to explore a new way of thinking to conquer the situation.”
A certified life coach and mental health counselor, Cruz is dedicated to sharing her message of personal growth and excellence with others. Although written with a foster child in mind, the book provides a source of inspiration for all people who desire to better their life and discover their true potential.
“So many people are just existing,” says Cruz. “They are sleepwalking through their lives, without realizing the opportunities before them.”
And according to this former foster child who defied the statistics, the opportunities are endless.
From Foster Care to Fabulous: An Imperative Movement
By Capri C. Cruz
Retail price: $16.95 soft cover
Capri C. Cruz is a certified life coach, mental health counselor and PhD scholar living in Alpharetta, Georgia. As a child, Cruz lived in nine foster homes in six years—between the ages of seven and 13—where she experienced physical, emotional and sexual abuse. After being homeless for several years, she re-entered foster care at age 17 until joining the U.S. Navy at age 19. For years, Cruz lived in a fear-induced trauma and self-medicated state until her a life-changing transformation in her mid-30s- the result of years of personal growth and spiritual development. Now a tireless advocate for self-love and personal excellent, Cruz is dedicated to spreading her message of empowerment with foster children and anyone who desires to better their life.
13 July 2012
SA would rather foster orphans —
South African families would rather provide orphans with foster care than adopt them, a study has found.
The SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) study found that adoptions were not a frequent choice among families.
"A lot of orphans are looked after by their extended families or family friends in a private, informal arrangement known as kinship foster care," the SAIRR said in a statement.
"This type of arrangement is widely practised in South Africa, even though it is not ordered or regulated by any statute or legal body."
It said Statistics SA estimated that 1.4 million children lived in such households.
The study found the number of orphans increased by 29% between 2005 and 2009, from just over four million children to 5.2 million.
In the same period adoptions decreased by 52% and foster care grants increased by 72%.
The statistics were based on data from the education department.
"Formal foster care comes with a financial incentive. The foster care grant is currently R770 a month. Many people opt to foster a child rather than adopt one."
Adoption required the family to be able to provide for the child’s needs, both financially and otherwise. "No financial assistance is provided by the government. In addition, the adoption process is a lengthy and demanding one, which often acts as a deterrent to prospective parents."
SAIRR researcher Lerato Moloi said this was not good news for the increasing number of orphans in the country.
"The Actuarial Society of SA estimates that by 2015, there will be more than 5.5 million orphans. Some 32% of these will be maternal, 56% paternal, and 12% double orphans."
9 July 2012
Future of Thornhill Road Children’s Home to be discussed
A £2 million purpose-built children’s care home shut down after just seven months looks set to be reopened by Cardiff Council.
The council-run Thornhill Road Children’s Home in Llanishen, above, was closed last year following a damning report by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW).
The inspector found staff felt “overwhelmed” and “let down” by their managers, while some children said they had been “threatened” by other children.
The report said “very few” aspects of the service had been delivered in “a manner suitable to adequately safeguard or promote the welfare of the young people”.
Following the inspection in October, CSSIW started legal action to have the home’s registration cancelled, but the council chose to voluntarily close it in December.
A paper setting out proposals for the future of the home will go under the microscope at a meeting of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee today.
One option is to reopen the home for children with similar needs to those children who were placed at the home during 2011 but with a new statement of purpose.
Another option is for the council to open the home for looked-after children with complex needs, specifically for disabled children or children on the autistic spectrum.
The council is also considering whether to run the home itself once again or to bring in an external provider.
10 July 2012
Teens in Oregon foster care struggle to gain footing as adults
Sitting there that graduation day, in the white folding chair and wearing the golden yellow gown, Juanitha Elliott couldn't help but repeat to herself: "I really did it!"
Others in the Jefferson High School gymnasium on June 3 were also thrilled that the beautiful, strong-willed young woman had overcome the odds. The principal hugged Elliott so hard that she knocked the teen's cap off. Her lawyer sat in the bleachers and cried.
Following a disastrous freshman year in high school, Elliott had entered Oregon's foster care system for the second time. She'd had a tumultuous childhood, going to live with her dad at age 2, then in foster homes from age 7 to 12 1/2. She lived with her mother for a while, but after problems there, went back into foster care at age 15. That meant security in some ways, but also an uncertain future.
National studies find teens who spend time in foster care are more likely to drop out of school. Left to launch into life without the support of a caring adult, many foster youths also struggle to find housing or a decent job.
Here in Oregon, there has been lots of talk about making sure teens in foster care get what they need to go onto successful lives. And there's some evidence that the right support can make the difference between getting through college or dropping off the radar screen.
But there's also a constant need for more foster families willing to take teens. School policies can still stand between a student and her diploma. And the state agency responsible for watching after youth in foster care is only beginning to count how many kids earn that diploma. In fact, ongoing problems with a computer upgrade at the Department of Human Services has made it impossible for the state to say exactly how many teens are in state foster care, or even offer an accurate count of how many have run away.
* * *
For kids, foster care means getting used to change. Elliott lived in five homes during high school, not counting nights spent in temporary shelters.
Sometimes she asked to be moved because the home wasn't a good fit. One time she ran away to a relative. "I kept in touch with my caseworker," she says. "I told her I'm staying here until you figure this out." She finally landed with foster mom, Sonya DeAngelo, whom she already knew and adored.
But that placement wasn't secure at first; the state had to certify DeAngelo as a foster parent and arrange payments.
Meanwhile, Elliott remembers: "I was having anxiety attacks. I was so stressed. Where am I going to be? I felt like nobody was listening."
In the end, and with much prodding from Elliott's lawyer, Lynn Haxton, she was allowed to remain.
Kevin George, state foster care manager, didn't know the details of Elliott's case. But he acknowledges that finding the right home for a teen is difficult.
"The mere fact that they're teenagers is in and of itself a challenge," he says. "We're asking foster families to attach to a child at a time when the youngster developmentally is trying to detach from parents. It's always been easier to find people who want to raise little kids."
A 2008 change in federal law made it possible for youths to stay in foster care until age 21. That's been both a blessing and a curse in Oregon.
George estimates there are more than 400 kids older than 18 in the state foster care system. In 2010, 3,866 youths who were 13 or older spent at least one day in Oregon foster care, about 30 percent of the total number of kids in care.
Meanwhile, Oregon has roughly the same number of foster homes today that it had in 2009.
In practice, older kids are being forced out to live on their own before they are ready, says Pamela Butler, child welfare policy manager for Children First for Oregon.
"I work with those kids who are trying to stay in care until they're 21 and I often hear, 'Nobody wants me,'" says Butler, who spent 11 years in Oregon foster care.
"I've also talked to youths who want to stay past 19 and are told 'no.' The caseworkers are being pressured to get that case closed up."
Elliott, now 19, beat the odds here, too. She chose to remain in the foster care system and still lives in DeAngelo's home.
* * *
Even though she finally had a secure living arrangement, there were times when Elliott felt like giving up on school.
The first day of her junior year, she arrived at Jefferson High School full of expectation. She'd already attended three other schools. But she really wanted to be at Jefferson and she really wanted to succeed.
"I planned my outfit out for that day," she says. "I had my hair done." Yet that first morning she was told: "You're not enrolled here. Go home." She immediately called her attorney.
Haxton's non-profit firm, Youth Rights and Justice, operates "School Works" -- a program designed to ensure that kids in foster care and in Oregon's juvenile justice system get what they need to stay in school.
Launched in 2002, School Works is only open to kids who are clients of the Portland-based firm. A decade of data shows kids who participate have fewer school moves and better attendance.
Of the 580 students who were academically behind when they started, data collected through December 2011 showed 497 School Works students had made progress.
Elliott's chances of graduating "were low," Haxton acknowledges. "But every step of the way they increased."
Haxton cleared the confusion over Elliott's Jefferson High School enrollment. She rushed to her rescue again in senior year, when a school counselor told Elliott the graduation requirements had changed since she'd first enrolled at the district. She not only was back for a fifth year, but she had to meet new math, English and science standards.
"What do you mean?" Elliott remembers asking that day.
While the Oregon Department of Human Services has no data telling how many kids in foster care earn a high school diploma, or GED, a 2009 study led by the John Hopkins Institute found that only 60 percent of the youths in the child welfare system receive a high school diploma by age 19. Other research shows a fraction go on to get a four-year degree.
A survey by Portland State University education professor Janine Allen found about 5 percent of the students at PSU were former foster youths. But there is no outreach to this "very high risk population," she said.
Last fall PCC launched, a mentoring program, called "Fostering Success," for former foster youths attending classes on the Cascade campus. Early results show participants completed more credits and were more likely to return for the winter and spring terms.
Linda Reisser, dean of student development on the PCC Cascade campus, compares the former foster youth students to veterans.
"There's a lot of low trust," she says. "They need to feel safe in order to support each other."
While the results from the pilot program are encouraging, Reisser says PCC may not have the money to continue the mentorship program next year.
Elliott says her future plans definitely include "more graduations."
She intends to enroll at PCC this fall and says she's interested in a career in the health care field. Or journalism. Or... She smiles and keeps talking. Maybe she'll have an apartment building someday where young women coming out of foster care could live. A pink apartment building.
"I feel like I have to pave the way for someone else," she says. "I am a lucky seed."
5 July 2012
Grandcarers raising children
ANNE from Dunoon was 46 when she began caring for her two grandchildren. Now at 58, she is still caring for her 12-year-old grandchild. Anne's daughter was a heroin addict, shooting up hundreds of dollars worth of drugs every day until she was hospitalised.
"I was told my daughter would die," Anne said. "But she didn't and the minute she got out of hospital, I became carer for her child."
Anne later began to care for her daughter's nine-month-old child as well, after her daughter was wanted by the police.
"The baby's growth was stunted and she was dying of neglect and had major withdrawals," Anne said. "She still suffers severe trauma. At the time, I had a full-time job at university and a relationship, but my partner didn't want to go through it with me and left. I also lost friends because they didn't want to be associated with someone who had an addict daughter."
In Australia, there are more than 22,000 grandparent-headed families in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and many of those families live in the Northern Rivers region.
During the last 25 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren because of their adult children's inability to take on the parenting role. A wide range of social factors has contributed to this growing social phenomenon, including parental alcohol and drug abuse, incarceration, mental health problems, as well as child abuse and neglect. Many of these grandcarers are isolated and are having financial difficulty and often don't know where to turn for help.
"At first, I was afraid to go to Centrelink in case they took my grandchild away from me," Anne said. "I started working part-time to care for the baby, but it wasn't until I got legal advice and discovered I could access government services that I was able to manage."
Parenting grandchildren can be a rewarding experience, bringing joy into grandparents' lives and keeping them active. However the grandparent-as-parent role presents many challenges including physical and emotional health problems, financial difficulties, legal and housing problems, as well as social isolation.
"I was very lonely and found I couldn't do things with friends anymore because I had kids," Anne said. "I couldn't go overseas or out on the weekends and evenings and I needed people to talk to about what I was going through."
Anne discovered a group of other grandcarers who would meet regularly to talk, share information and provide each other with emotional and social support. In the local area, the Rainbow Region Grandcarers group has been established to support grandcarers and other kin-carers. It meets on the first Friday of each month in school terms. Anne wants to encourage more people to come along and support each other.
"My grandkids are lovely, happy kids," Anne said. "We have joyful moments and they call me mum and tell me how much they love me. Sometimes I miss the grandparenting role where you are supposed to spoil them and give them back. You hear other grandparents say, 'I looked after them for one day and I'm exhausted.' I get tired a lot but I couldn't put them in foster care. I used to miss my freedom, but now it's just a way of life and I want to be able to provide a good start for my grandchildren."
Sue, a grandcarer from Nimbin, said many grandcarers feel ashamed about their role, but emphasised that coming to a support group can not only give you lots of information about your legal rights, but about where you can access services to help the children you are caring for.
"When their parents have mental, drug or alcohol problems, the children don't come without trouble," Sue said. "At a support group, you can find out where they can get psychological help or help with learning disabilities. It also allows children to get to know each other, so they know they are not the only ones brought up by their grandparents. Everyone there also understands what you are going through and it's good to be able to talk about it."
5 July 2012
Juvenile courts search for balance between punishment, rehabilitation
It might seem like a simple process: Commit a crime, go to court, go to jail.
But what if the offender is just a kid?
For juvenile courts, they're continually striking a balance between punishing offenders and trying to help them through counseling and mentoring programs, said Dan Kieffer, Muskingum County Juvenile Detention Center director.
Kieffer has been working at the Muskingum County Juvenile Detention Center for almost 35 years. He started when he was in college, working the midnight shift as a youth supervisor. Then, he was detention supervisor for 14 years before taking over as director.
During his tenure, Kieffer has noticed a few trends.
For one, it seems children are getting into the system younger and younger. It used to be the detention center would see maybe one or two 12-year-olds per year, Kieffer said. Now, there might be a few at any given time.
The average age of a juvenile in the Muskingum County center is about 15 years, "but we have gone as low as 9. That's a rarity," Kieffer said.
Juveniles are put in detention for a variety of offenses, but the most common are theft and substance abuse, Kieffer said.
"And, the two are probably related," he said.
Kieffer also has noticed more and more juveniles with mental health issues, he said. At any given time, half the children in the center are on some sort of medication, he said.
It's also often the same families cycling through the juvenile system again and again, Kieffer said. The problem is that children learn how to be parents by watching their own, so one parent raises an unruly child, who raises an unruly child, who raises an unruly child.
"In my history, you see families over and over and over," Kieffer said.
Statewide, Kieffer has noticed a trend toward probation officers taking on more of a counseling role. In the past, probation officers had pretty much one function -- to enforce the rules of the court. Now, they're mentoring juveniles, teaching them how to deal with bullies and how to get out of situations where drugs and alcohol are being used, Kieffer said.
"Our kids face a myriad of challenges that most kids don't find in their daily lives," he said.
Finally, Kieffer has noticed an increase in programming available to juveniles.
For most of his career, the only program available was probation, Kieffer said, but now there are diversion programs, counseling programs for juveniles and parents and re-entry programs to help juveniles transition smoothly into society and to reduce recidivism.
1 July 2012
Child-protection inquiry could reopen 22-year-old case
A BROAD-RANGING inquiry led by former Crime Commission chief Tim Carmody will review Queensland's child-protection system, a probe that could reignite the 22-year-old Heiner affair.
Premier Campbell Newman yesterday announced the $6 million royal commission-style inquiry to examine the resourcing, effectiveness and adequacy of child protection systems.
Over the next 10 months the inquiry will devise systemic reforms and strategies to reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous children in foster care. Indigenous children make up about one-third of foster placements.
Mr Newman said child-protection notifications jumped from about 62,500 in 2005-06 to 114,000 last year.
"There have been an explosion in reports, but is it actually protecting children effectively?" he said. "That's what the inquiry is going to look at. We don't want traumatised, damaged people coming through the child protection system, that in itself would be a failure."
The terms of reference also allow a formal review of the response to "allegations of criminal conduct associated with government responses into historic child sexual abuse in youth detention centres", a nod to the Heiner controversy.
The Heiner affair centres on the 1990 shredding of documents from an inquiry that had allegedly detailed mismanagement at a youth detention centre following the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl in care.
It will be the 11th state or federal inquiry into the events.
Mr Newman said the fresh inquiry would be "open and transparent" but it was at Mr Carmody's discretion to determine what would be investigated.
"Our position is that if someone brings something forward that is new and hasn't been looked at before, it should be looked at, it shouldn't be swept under the carpet," he said. "A failure to do that would have been, essentially, trying to muzzle this inquiry because there might be other things that come up."
Mr Carmody, a former federal judge and the Queensland Crime Commissioner, said he was "a complete blank sheet" on Heiner.
"Everyone has got a right to make a submission to the inquiry," he said. "It's the inquiry's obligation to work out what is relevant and assess it."
Child-protection advocates said Queensland's system was crisis-driven, with workers dealing with too many cases. Bravehearts director Hetty Johnston said it was important to revisit whether previous inquiries had improved the system.
"For the first time, this is an inquiry into child protection which has been driven without an immediate crisis," Ms Johnston said.
Queensland Council of Social Services president Karyn Walsh said it was necessary to review the over-representation of indigenous children in care.
The outcomes of two previous inquiries, the 1999 Forde inquiry and the 2003 Crime and Misconduct Commission review, sparked political crises. Former Labor premier Peter Beattie used the CMC investigation as the trigger for the 2004 election, before committing more than $250m to the system.
The report is due to be completed by April 30 next year.
30 June 2012