Jersey youth visitor group needs more volunteers
A group that visits young people in care in Jersey is looking for more volunteers.
The Board of Visitors meets young people in open and secure residential units to listen to worries and tackle problems.
The group monitors all aspects of children's life in care and helps them get their voices heard.
The board says having more people will help them make regular visits and spend more time with young people.
It looks at living conditions and access to education and recreational opportunities.
The group also checks that standards are maintained and identifies any issues raised by young people and staff.
At the moment there are only eight members.
Sheila Warren, who chairs the board, said it was important for them to have the time to check they were living in a caring environment and the right support was there to prepare them for the future.
27 May 2012
Broken promise on foster care
Two years ago, the California Legislature passed a landmark bill (AB12) that was designed to leverage federal dollars to help support former foster youth until age 21 if they pursue an education or job training.
But now the state is breaking that promise.
In effect, counties have been given the option to phase in the program - which is a polite way of saying they can cut off support for foster youth on their 19th birthday.
This policy has subjected our most vulnerable youth to a cruel game of roulette based on birth-date and residence. If they happened to have turned 19 before Jan. 1 - or live in a county that is living up to its obligation as a surrogate parent - then they can continue to receive support as they try to gain their footings in the world.
David Colby, a high school senior who has lived with his foster family in Hercules for the past five years, was not so fortunate. He got the word from Contra Costa County just before his 19th birthday: He was about to be cut off, and could reapply for support when he turns 20.
It took a judge's order to force the county to continue supporting David for 90 days while state legislators consider an emergency bill to address this outrageous breach of promise to foster youth.
"It was shocking; we thought he might have to move right before school ended," said his 24-year-old sister, Lily Colby, a student at the UC Berkeley School of Law. "It would have been insane."
Lily was equally incensed that one of the county's arguments for cutting off support was her pledge to not let her younger brother become homeless. "I'm a law student. ... I'm of negative wealth," she said, acknowledging that she would have taken out more student loans if that was what was required to keep her brother off the streets.
David was born premature and underweight, with traces of methamphetamine in his system, according to his sister. He has persevered as a high-functioning autistic student and has been accepted to UC Berkeley for the fall.
The Colby siblings are examples of foster youth who have defied the odds. Studies have shown that a young adult leaving foster care is many times more likely to become incarcerated or homeless than to obtain a college degree.
Statewide, more than 2,100 foster youth will turn 19 this year. The prospect that some of them will be left without support at this critical moment in their lives is both cruel and unwise. It's also foolish in another sense: Under the Fostering Connections Act of 2008, the federal government provides a dollar-to-dollar match to extend foster-youth support to age 21.
Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, has introduced legislation to fill this funding gap for 19-year-olds. His AB1712, scheduled for a vote Friday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, has been cast as an urgent measure - which means it could take effect by August, but would require a two-thirds vote for passage.
The state of California should end this shameful situation where 19-year-olds who are striving to stay in school or pursue job training to become self-sufficient are left on their own. These foster youth - dependent on the state through no fault of their own - are our children, our collective responsibility. They should not have to go to court, as David Colby did, to force a deadbeat county to fulfill its duty.
Legislators should pass AB1712 with the sense of urgency it deserves.
25 May 2012
Social changes blamed for huge rise in Dundee children needing council care
An erosion of social values and an increase in family break-ups are being blamed for the record high number of Dundee children in council care.
A Courier investigation has discovered the number of youngsters in foster or residential care has rocketed to 734 — a startling 35% jump from 2007.
The increase comes four years after the tragic case of 23-month-old Brandon Muir who was killed at the hands of his mother's lover Robert Cunningham.
The tragedy led to improvements in the city council's social work department and raised awareness among the public.
But with the rise in the number of youngsters now being looked after by the local authority, it is the taxpayers who must cope with the ''phenomenal burden'' to fund the vital service.
That is according to the Rev David Robertson from the Free Church of Scotland in Dundee, who said: ''It's really disquieting that so many children have to be taken into care. I think it's appalling that number of children are so neglected that they have to be taken into care.
''It is like what David Cameron has said — the breakdown of the family unit is having an impact and that is one of the most obvious things happening at the moment.
''In the Bible it says 'you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind'. Because we have neglected the family we are really seeing that now. It will take a lot of time to sort but we have to do what we can to support these kids.''
Independent councillor Ian Borthwick believes the rise is largely due to drug and alcohol abuse. He added that a lack of jobs is making matters worse.
''The main factor, I believe, is a high instance of drug and alcohol problems contributing to more children being taken into care," he said.
The Strathmartine councillor also warned there is no easy fix to this problem.
''It's education at every stage to ensure that families are given the opportunity of employment,'' he added. ''As a family's financial difficulties become more and more acute it increases the pressure. It's a recipe for real trouble and a problem that is manifesting at the moment.''
The council's social work department received an extra £1 million when it set its budget for 2011/12 and another £500,000 had been added for contingency funds.
Despite this, a department overspend of almost £2 million was revealed in a report before the policy and resources committee in December.
It stated: ''The majority of this overspend reflects cost pressures surrounding Children Services, where payments for family placements are expected to be greater than budgeted due to the increased number of children requiring permanent substitute care away from their birth parents.''
In Scotland last year there were 16,171 children looked after by local authorities, an increase of 2% since 2010, according to the Scottish Government.
The number of looked-after children has increased every year since 2001, and is at its highest since 1981.
Jim Wallace, acting head of Children's Services at Barnardo's Scotland, said: ''For many years we have been aware of the poor educational attainment of looked-after children, we have been concerned about the high incidence of mental health difficulties that impact on their daily lives, concerned about how they fair as care leavers knowing too many end up homeless or in custody.
''Numerous initiatives have been instigated to make improvements but in truth despite the efforts of many committed professionals in health, social work, education and the voluntary sector little meaningful progress has been made.
''In Scotland we need to fundamentally rethink how we deliver services and support looked-after children and care leavers.''
24 May 3012
Don't hit them, talk with your children
Spanking or any form of physical punishment may lead to aggression in children and even poor child-parent relationships in the long run.
This warning came from a noted child-clinical psychologist, who is the principal researcher and co-author of the Canadian joint statement on physical punishment of children and youth and a member of the United Nations Secretary-General's study on violence against children.
"The more harsh the punishment, the worse their behavior becomes," said Dr. Joan Durrant, author “The Positive Discipline Manual: What is it and How to do it?”and “Positive Discipline in Everyday Teaching: Guidelines for Educators."
Corporal punishment is defined as the physical, emotional, and psychological punishment of children in the guise of discipline.
She advised parents to practice "positive discipline" instead. Instead of spanking children or meting out another form of physical punishment, parents should see the situation from their children's point of view and find an opportunity to teach them to succeed, give them information and support their growth.
"The word discipline actually means teaching. Teaching is based on setting goals for learning, planning an effective approach, and finding solutions that work. Parenting is mentorship," she said.
"Corporal punishment is a violation of children's rights, respect for children's integrity, human dignity, and equal protection under the law," said Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy, author of House Bill 4455 or the Positive Discipline Act of 2012.
The transmitted version of the House bill and its senate counterpart, Senate Bill 873, filed by Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is still pending on the Senate Committee of Youth, Women and Family Relations.
"While there are a number of organizations working for the promotion of positive discipline, these efforts are temporary, fragmented and short-lived," said Romeo Dongeto, executive director of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Poulation and Development Foundation. "A national law once enacted will mandate government agencies to introduce positive discipline as an approach in rearing Filipino children."
A 2005 study conducted by the group "Save the Children," showed that 85 percent of Filipino children claim that they were punished in the home, with 82 percent of them hit in different parts of the body.
A 2011 Pulse Asia perception survey, meanwhile, revealed that two out of three parents use corporal punishment to discipline their children while nine out of 10 parents who practice corporal punishment say that it was also used by their parents to discipline them.
"It is our obligation as adults to protect children," said Wilma Banaga, child protection advisor of Save the Children.
21 May 2012
Giving foster youth some room to dream
The list of items that can improve the lives of young
adults aging out of our foster-care system is long but not terribly
complicated. Basically, they need stuff. Interview clothes and laptop
computers. Furniture and school supplies. Bus passes. Gas cards. Linens.
Then there is the stuff that isn’t stuff. The stuff futures are made of. Kids who grow up in the foster-care system could use some of that, too, and Marcy Morrison is there to give it to them.
“They have always been in survival mode, so they are never given the opportunity to dream and hope. When you ask them, ‘What do you love to do?’ you get this blank look,” said Morrison, a volunteer career coach and mentor with Just in Time for Foster Youth. “They have the answers. They just need someone to ask the right questions.”
At the nonprofit group’s Old Town offices, ?Just in Time’s support for former foster youth comes in the form of necessary goods and invaluable services. The goods cover everything from donated dorm furniture to emergency rent money. The services include career and vocational counseling, financial-literacy courses and tutoring. As of last year, they also include dreaming.
In 2011, Just in Time launched Career Horizons for Young Women, a life-expanding program that gives its students the rare chance to think big. There are classes on finding your passion, dressing for success and planning your ideal career. There are interviews and internships with prospective employers. Students are matched with mentors and introduced to the concept of networking.
They are also introduced to Marcy Morrison, career coach, friend, human sparkplug and Just in Time’s Volunteer of the Year for 2011. Morrison helped create the Career Horizons program. She teaches many of its classes, brings fellow professional women into the mix, and is working on a pilot video project for the Just in Time website. She still mentors six Career Horizons graduates, two of whom just celebrated Mother’s Day with Morrison and her sons.
“She is just a passionate and committed person who wants to help people thrive. That is her whole approach to life,” said Just In Time executive director Don Wells, who recruited the charismatic Morrison two years ago after sitting next to her at a meeting. “Marcy is very, very positive. She feels that if you find the right spot, you will blossom and become wonderful.”
In case the boots and leather skirt were not tipoff enough, Morrison cheerfully confesses to being a “Jersey girl.” After growing up in Monmouth Hills, N.J., Morrison studied international affairs and Spanish at James Madison University in Virginia. She did grass-roots community development in El Salvador with the Inter-American Foundation and moved to San Diego in 1994 to attend UCSD’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.
After beefing up her business experience with an internship at Bank of America and a job at Qualcomm, Morrison took a few years off to start a family. Then she asked herself, what do I really want to do? During a four-year evolution that included a trip to a Peruvian orphanage and a meditation-related epiphany, Morrison came up with her two-part answer.
She wanted to help people find careers they loved, and she wanted to help lift children out of poverty. So she started a coaching and consulting service for adults (Careers With Wings) and young people (Children With Wings). She wrote “Finding Your Passion: the Easy Guide to Your Dream Career,” which was published in 2009.
When Morrison met Wells the following year, Just in Time had just received funding for a career-training program, and Morrison was ready to combine both passions into one cause. Just in Time was the right spot, and many wonderful things blossomed when Morrison and her program took root.
“She really helped me step out of my box and connect with people,” said Shontá Battle, who is graduating from SDSU with a degree in gerontology but is following her dream to start an arts program for underprivileged kids and her fellow foster youth. “I learned how to network, and I also learned how to ask for help and how to give help if it’s needed.”
As it turns out, the lessons go both ways. For Morrison, this is the stuff that a dream life is made of, and she is living it right now.
“I feel like this is my purpose. This is why I get out of bed in the morning,” Morrison said. “Anytime you see that light bulb go off, where I can see they have figured out who they are and what they want to do, there is nothing better than that,”
19 May 2012
Education Report: Chronic
Over 5 Million Students
Danet Robaina-Cline, an attendance counselor at Chaparral High, considers her school lucky.
Like other schools in Las Vegas, a city reeling from the worst ravages of the foreclosure crisis, Chaparral serves impoverished children. They live in foster care or homeless shelters. They must watch over their younger siblings or move several times a year. But because Chaparral is in the middle of a well-funded turnaround process, it's one of the very few schools that can afford an attendance counselor.
It's one of the very few schools that could have picked up on the fact that a certain student was the sole breadwinner for his family.
After Chaparral's attendance reporting system found this student had missed many days of school, administrators sent him to talk with Robaina-Cline. "During our second meeting, he was discussing this very bitter kind of attitude about not being able to do certain things in school," she said. "Then, he let loose, he totally vented about his life."
His parents were ill and out of work, leaving him to support the family with his fast-food job. "He was in survival mode," Robaina-Cline recalled. "He had to ask himself the same question every day: Are you going to eat, or are you going to take a history test? Going to school became a luxury. But if you're not in school, you won't be successful, and you won't graduate."
Chaparral worked with the family, and the student is now on track to graduate with his class.
At many other schools, though, that student might have been invisible. Between 5 million and 7.5 million students miss a month of school every year, according to a report that will be released Thursday by Johns Hopkins professor Bob Balfanz, who runs the university's Everyone Graduates Center. And many of them go unnoticed: Schools' overall attendance rates don't reveal the percentage of students who are absent too often. The paper, titled "The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation's Public Schools," is the first to quantify chronic absenteeism at a national level.
Chronic absenteeism -- defined as missing at least 10 percent of school days -- is more prevalent among high-poverty students. In New York City, 200,00 students, or 20 percent, were chronically absent in the 2010-2011 school year. In Baltimore, one-fourth of all students missed more than a month of school during the same year. Balfanz and his coauthor Vaughan Byrnes estimate that between 10 and 15 percent of students nationwide miss at least one in 10 school days.
"This is how poverty impacts kids' performance in school," Balfanz said. "They have to get their sister to school, and that makes them late, so they just pretend to be sick rather than getting in trouble. Or they need to earn money to help the family. Or there's gang violence they're avoiding."
As some education advocates push for more rigorous academics and teacher accountability, Balfanz argues they fail to ask a basic question: Are kids actually in school?
"Like bacteria in a hospital, chronic absenteeism can wreak havoc long before it is discovered," the report says. Lacking information about absenteeism, "[e]ducators and policymakers cannot truly understand achievement gaps or efforts to close them."
High absenteeism, the paper contends, is the best single predictor of whether a student will drop out of school -- a choice that can severely limit the individual's life earnings and career potential. Missing school also affects performance on standardized tests. A California-based study found that San Mateo and Santa Clara students who arrived in school ready to learn but then missed a significant chunk of the school year scored 60 percent below students with good attendance records on reading tests and 100 points lower on math tests.
"If kids aren't in school, the best reforms aren’t going to make a difference," Balfanz said.
Despite its links to academic performance and graduation, only six states -- Oregon, Rhode Island, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Nebraska -- report on chronic absenteeism. New York and California don't even collect the data researchers need to calculate the rates.
The new report was commissioned by the Get Schooled Foundation, a campaign focused on increasing graduation rates that is partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"Before this paper, we didn't have a sense of how large the scale of chronic absenteeism is," said Hedy Chang, director of the nonprofit group Attendance Works. "We have to make sure kids have the resources to get to school in the first place."
The paper has suggestions for the federal government. Balfanz recommends that the No Child Left Behind waiver process require school turnaround plans to include tracking of and responding to chronic absenteeism and that the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights survey collect data on chronic absenteeism.
Officials at the Education Department did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a former preschool teacher, plans to sponsor a congressional briefing Balfanz will hold Thursday, though she will not attend.
"This important research shines a bright light on this problem in our schools and it makes it clear that we all need to do more to make sure students make it into the classroom so that they have the best chance to succeed," Murray said in a statement.
17 May 2012
Extended care for foster kids in peril
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to make it optional for counties to implement a portion of a new state law that extends foster care to age 21 could leave thousands of young adults without appropriate housing, opponents say.
Foster care advocates begged the governor to rethink his proposal at a budget hearing on May 2, but the revised budget plan released Monday does not reflect the suggested changes.
About 2,000 foster care youths living in group homes will turn 18 this year, and the majority of them aren’t ready to live independently, said Amy Lemley, policy director for the John Burton Foundation, a nonprofit that monitors foster-care issues.
The governor’s proposal gives counties the choice of implementing a Transitional Housing Program specifically designed for former foster children. Lemley worries that if the THP-Plus Foster Care program is made optional, it will fall prey to budget cuts in future years, leaving thousands of young adults in the lurch.
“THP-Plus Foster Care is an integral part of the implementation of successful foster care and without it we know many young vulnerable people will not make a safe, successful transition and will instead experience homeless and incarceration,” she said.
Brown’s proposal aims to give local governments more
flexibility as part of the budgeting realignment of child welfare services,
said Michael Weston, spokesman for the California Department of Social
“The focus of realignment for child welfare services is to give the counties as much flexibility as possible to operate, shifting responsibility to determine what services will best meet the needs of children to the local level,” he said. “THP-Plus Foster Care is part of a wide array of services available.”
Under the governor’s proposal, the state would license THP-Plus Foster Care facilities, giving counties the ability to opt in to the program.
Advocates of the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, or AB 12, say THP-Plus Foster Care should be mandatory, because there aren’t other programs like it available to young adults.
Assemblywoman Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chair of the budget subcommittee on health and human services, said she believes AB-12 should be implemented as it was approved by the legislature.
“Releasing kids who have ‘aged out’ of foster care to homelessness is clearly not in the best interest of anyone’s child… mine or yours and shouldn’t be California’s policy,” she said.” I am committed to working to ensure we keep our commitments to these kids.“
After winning bipartisan support from legislators, AB 12 was signed into law in September 2010 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Most portions of the law went into effect Jan. 1, but counties are still waiting on the state to issue guidelines for THP-Plus Foster Care.
The Department of Social Services plans to send out a letter to the counties in the next two or three weeks that will allow them to take steps toward implementation, Weston said.
AB 12 calls for the state to offer housing and support services for young adults in foster care between the ages of 18 and 21, as long as they are enrolled in school, working or making progress toward those goals, or are disabled. Foster care youth who turn 18 this year, the first group under the new law, have the option so far to stay with their foster families, live with relatives or be placed in a Supervised Independent Living Program.
However, those three options aren’t viable for about 20 percent of teens — those living in group homes, Lemley said. These teens typically don’t have the life skills to live on their own, but the independent living program may be their only option.
Drew Howell is one such teen. He’s been in the foster care system since age 17, after running away from his home in Ukiah a year prior.
Howell would like to participate in THP-Plus Foster Care after he graduates from high school on May 25, but since it hasn’t been implemented yet, he’s going to try the independent living program.
He’s not sure he’s prepared to live on his own — he’s still working on getting his driver’s license and finding a job — but he’s going to give it a shot, he said.
“Where else am I supposed to go?” Howell said. “I still have parents but a lot of other kids out there don’t and once they graduate they’re not going to have much of a choice — they can either try it or be homeless. That’s pretty much the gist of it.”
Even if it becomes optional, most counties in the state are committed to implementing THP-Plus Foster Care, because they believe it’s a good option for some young adults, Lemley said.
Ventura County is among several counties that are eager to get the guidelines for implementing the program, said Elaine Martinez, senior program manger, with Ventura County Human Services Agency. She estimates that the program could be up and running about 60 days after the state issues the requirements.
In large part, Brown appears committed to implementing AB 12, Lemley said. He allocated an additional $53.9 million for its implementation over the next three years in his revised budget Monday.
But the governor’s plans to make THP-Plus Foster Care optional won’t give foster care teens the reassurance they need that help is out there, Howell said.
“I feel that it is necessary and it should be authorized for everybody because everyone’s created equal, but some of us don’t have the good life and some of us need the help until we’re 21,” he said.
15 May 2012
Hope expressed in a child's hug
It was a simple gesture; a child's innocent hug that brought a smile to the face of Queen Elizabeth.
Amid the grandiose surroundings of St George's Hall in Windsor Castle - 4,000 miles and a world away from her village in Uganda - Lydia Amito stood in line waiting to meet the monarch.
But dispensing with the normal formalities, Lydia, orphaned at the age of one, could not help herself.
Stepping forward, she suddenly embraced the Queen in a spontaneous hug, her head resting on Her Majesty's shoulder.
"I was so excited about meeting the Queen," Lydia, aged 10, told The Sunday Telegraph yesterday (Saturday).
"I hugged her because she is the Queen and she was very nice. Before I met her I had seen pictures of her so I knew what she looked like. It was great to meet her in the castle where she lives."
The little girl, a broad smile across her face, added: "Visiting Windsor Castle was amazing. I never imagined anyone could live in such a big house.
"It is much bigger than mine. There was a painting of a king which kept following us around the room with his eyes. It was amazing."
Lydia's journey from her war-torn home in northern Uganda to the inner sanctum at Windsor Castle is a remarkable, and deeply moving, one.
She is a member of the 22-strong Watoto Children's Choir, part of a charity set up 18 years ago to care for the thousands of children orphaned in the country.
Lydia's father was murdered by a rebel army and her mother died soon after from disease.
Tonight, the choir will sing in front of the Queen as part of the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, a four-day celebration that culminates with this evening's performance in the private grounds of Windsor Castle.
The pageant is one of the major events to mark the jubilee, with a cast involving celebrities, musicians and performers, among them more than 1,000 dancers and 550 horses from around the world.
On Friday, Lydia and some of the other pageant cast members, including Aboriginal dancers and Masai tribesmen, met the Queen at a tea party to celebrate the event.
It was a moment that Lydia Amito will never forget; a moment of joy after a difficult childhood.
For she has seen things no child should have to witness.
When she was barely one, her father, Walter, was murdered by rebel troops belonging to Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army during their savage campaign in northern Uganda. A few months later her mother, Margaret, was admitted to hospital suffering from a severe illness.
She never returned home, leaving Lydia and her six brothers and sisters alone in the world.
It is a measure of the work of Watoto, which runs a network of villages throughout Uganda currently caring for 2,500 children orphaned by war, poverty and disease, that Lydia is far from being a broken casualty of conflict.
On stage with her friends, all of them children who have experienced deep trauma in their short lives, she sings, dances and ululates to her heart's content.
"Singing makes me feel good," she said after another performance yesterday afternoon. "It makes me forget the bad things that happened."
When Kony's troops entered Lydia's village of Palabek nine years ago, as part of their guerrilla insurgency against the Ugandan government, they massacred all who stood in their way.
"They killed my father when I was only one year old," she explained. "I don't remember it because I was small, but it was soldiers who killed him.
"A few months later my mother died of disease and my eldest sister Jane had to look after us."
The children were taken in by one of the village women until they were sent to one of the Watoto villages, established nearby as peace slowly returned to the Gulu region.
Her village is spacious and consists of brick and concrete huts, their roofs covered with corrugated iron.
Here, Lydia and the others were able to attend school, receive medical care and undergo counselling to help them overcome the suffering they had endured.
Watoto workers such as Stephen Banyikiza, 30, call it a process of healing. "We rescue these children from terrible circumstances and try to raise them as leaders so they can help build a better country," he said.
"As a result, they are no longer victims, but children who want to grow up to become doctors, lawyers, bank managers and bus drivers."
The children live in extended families looked after by an adoptive "house mother" who has frequently lost her own children.
"The children and their house mothers heal each other. She finds a new family and they find a new mother," said Mr Banyikiza.
The choir tours Britain annually, first performing at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2008, after a chance meeting between Marilyn Skinner, one of Watoto's founders, and a member of the Royal household.
Communications were maintained and the invitation to perform at the Diamond Jubilee Pageant followed.
As part of their trip the children spent a day and a night with a host family in Windsor, arranged through Watoto's contacts with churches in Britain. For Lydia this included a trip to a local bowling alley. "It was really fun," she said.
Back home, she has a house mother who takes great care of her. "My Watoto house mother, Mama Santa, is very nice and good," said Lydia, "She looks after me. I feel much better living with her in the village. I love singing with the other children."
Lydia already knows what she wants to do when she grows up.
"I want to be a nurse because if people are sick then I can help them. There's a nurse in our village and I look at the work she does. That's what I want to do."
Before preparing for her next performance, Lydia gives another hug - this time to a Sunday Telegraph reporter - before skipping off to play football with her fellow choristers in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Among the songs they will sing for the Queen tonight will be Beautiful Africa, written to express their hope that, with God's help, there will be a better future for the continent.
"It's a song about my country and about Jesus," said Lydia, barely containing her excitement.
"I never thought I would meet the Queen and then get to sing for her. I'm really looking forward to it."
13 May 2010
Children who look after ailing
parents sometimes overlooked
by system: experts
On a good day, Thomas Shin only had to change a few diapers when he got home from high school. On a bad day, he'd find himself following a trail of blood to the site of his father's latest fall.
Teenage life was always unpredictable for Shin, who began caring for his ailing parent at the age of 12 before doctors had even settled on a diagnosis.
Shin, his mother and two younger sisters coped with dramatic mood swings and escalating physical symptoms for three years before his father was found to have frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), a condition that slowly ate away at his brain function.
By the time the diagnosis was handed down in 2006, Shin and his siblings were fully versed in a routine familiar to tens of thousands of youth across the country — providing primary care to a parent who could no longer fend for themself.
"There was a real mix of emotions when we found out what was really wrong," Shin, 19, said in a telephone interview. "I just pushed it to the back of my mind and tried to take care of him as best I could."
For Shin, providing that care meant suspending most of the activities considered part of a normal high school routine. Instead of sports or extracurricular clubs, he spent his after-school hours helping his father with basic tasks such as eating, walking and showering.
The demands became more onerous as his the illness progressed, Shin said, adding much energy also had to be put into curbing the irrational impulses triggered by his deteriorating brain condition.
His sisters — aged nine and three at the time of the diagnosis — also needed additional supervision that their father could no longer provide.
June Shin said all three of her children pitched in readily while she was earning the paycheque to fund her husband's $1,800 monthly medical bills, but acknowledged a disproportionate amount of the work fell on her son's young shoulders.
"Thomas, as the boy, I could rely on him to help me move Michael easier. I counted on him probably more than the others," she said.
Those expectations — coupled with the taxing home routine — took a heavy emotional toll on Thomas, particularly as he came to feel isolated from his peers and singled out by some of the adults in his life.
"People were saying that I have so much more responsibility now and how I need to step up and be the man of the house when I wasn't even old enough to be considered a man," Shin said.
"It's stressful. It's a lot of unneeded pressure."
Such emotions are common for the country's youthful care-givers, who experts say have largely fallen through the cracks of the medical support system.
Marge Dempsey, founding member of the Young Carers Initiative, said most family services are tailored towards both the patient and the primary adult caregiver while overlooking the needs of the children.
Such an oversight is significant, the organization argues, estimating the number of young people in Canada caring for a physically or mentally ill parent tops 108,000.
Dempsey said the Young Carers Initiative tries to fill the gap by ensuring affected teens have a network of empathetic peers and appropriate social services to turn to.
"Children are the ones who have no real say in the process. They're always along for the ride. No one asked them if they wanted to be part of this," Dempsey said. "I think it's recognizing that when you have a person that's part of a family that's got a health issue, there are other people in their immediate circle who are directly impacted."
Dr. Tiffany Chow, behavioural neurologist at brain research centre Baycrest, said the limited support resources that were available in recent years tended to focus on shielding youth rather than teaching them to navigate an inherently adult situation.
"The specific needs of young caregivers will depend on the condition they are helping to support," she said, but added all caretakers could benefit from being treated like the grownups they've been forced to become at an early age.
""I don't know if culturally we're trying to protect the children from knowing too much, but I think that's exactly the wrong approach," she said. "The more we're honest with them, the better they'll be able to understand and cope."
Honesty was the best policy for the Shin family, Thomas said. Frank discussions of his father's medical condition helped everyone face the rigours of the caregiving routine and helped the unit pull together when he died last year.
Those bonds have stood him in good stead as he transitioned to supporting his family members, including mowing the lawn and coaching his sister's hockey team.
Most of all, he said, the support system he enjoyed allowed him to find a silver lining in his experience. He is currently enrolled in a college nursing program and hopes to become a paramedic in the next few years.
"I know I can't prevent brain diseases, but I know that if I am doing that kind of care, I want to be able to help people that have to go through the loss of a loved one," he said. "I can more relate to them and I can help them out more."
10 May 201
The Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers has sent underprivileged children to summer camp for more than 40 years.
Even though we've had our summer camp scholarship program for nearly half a century, I know that some parents in our community might be learning about our summer camp scholarship program for the first time.
I also know that a business owner or leader in our community may read this article and want to help.
As development director at The Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers, I've helped raise money to send kids to summer camp for six years. I am motivated by the kids we reach with our program.
A parent of a sixth-grade boy from Benton told us, "I would like to thank all of you for making camp possible for my son. His teacher said he is a different kid this school year. He was also just elected sixth-grade class president."
Over the years, I have heard several stories similar to this.
A teacher from Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield once said, "Please thank all of those whose dedication and hard work made camp a reality for some of our students. Their efforts do make a difference in the lives of children."
If you've ever been to summer camp, you know what it's like. Think about the friendships you formed and memories you made that will last a lifetime. I'm proud to say that many children have enjoyed a positive camp experience through our partnerships with camps throughout Maine.
The concept behind our scholarship program is to give at-risk children an opportunity to develop social skills and leadership qualities, grow more independent and become more adventurous and willing to try new things.
This summer we're sending scholarship recipients to three overnight camps -- Camp Susan Curtis in Lovell, Camp Mechu-wana in Winthrop, Camp Fair Haven in Brooks -- and two day camps -- Camp Tracy in Oakland and Julia Clukey's Camp for Girls in Readfield.
Each year, applications for our summer camp scholarship program are sent to a number of school districts with instructions to pass them out to the students on free or reduced lunch. In Kennebec County, that number has grown to 52.8 percent of students and, in Somerset County, to 59.1 percent. Also, the social worker network is alerted and many of them help their clients apply.
Applications are received at the Maine Children's Home in Waterville and children are signed up for camp on a first-come, first-served basis. As donations are received, parents are called in to complete the application process and choose the camp and program that best suits their child. Generally, it costs $250 to sponsor a child for a week of overnight summer camp. Families are income-qualified at 133 percent the federal poverty guidelines.
Two years ago, we sent 139 children to camp. Last year, we sent 102 children and overdrew the scholarship account by $13,000. Because of the sluggish economy, donations have been down for the past couple of years.
This year, I want to help educate members of our community about this program so they can spread the word to parents. With some of the recent support we've had from the community, I believe we can reach our goal of sending 150 children to camp this year, but it will take a lot of work before the end of May to reach the needed $37,500 in donations.
So far this year, we have received $17,500 in donations from businesses and individuals, and several small grants, and, as a result, 65 children have been registered for summer camp.
For more information or to make a donation, visit our website, www.mainechildrenshome.org
Steve Mayberry is the development director at The Maine
Children's Home for Little Wanderers
8 May 2012
Carers supporting local children
While many of us care for our children unconditionally,
it is not always possible for some.
This can be due to illness or other altered family situations including parent/child conflict or child abuse/neglect.
When cases like this arise, it can be necessary for children to be looked after by a foster carer.
The role of foster carers in the community is a valuable one and there is always a need for more people to take on this special job.
From next week, Centacare will be holding several information sessions for people interested in becoming either respite, short term or long term foster carers.
Centacare alternative care support worker Barbara Jaritz said being a carer was a chance to make a positive difference in a child's life at what can be a difficult time.
"We're always wanting more foster carers to provide a safe, loving and secure home for children that may not be able to be in their own family home," Ms Jaritz said.
Currently Centacare is especially looking for more respite carers to become a part of the foster care support system in Whyalla.
2 May 32012
Homes’ good news
EVERY children’s home in Wirral has achieved ‘healthier homes status’ after the national scheme was introduced by the NHS locally.
The NHS Wirral ‘Healthier Homes’ standard for ‘Looked after Children’ in residential care encourages homes to adopt healthier approaches to food, exercise and wider wellbeing issues such as sexual health, drugs and alcohol.
NHS chiefs said the programme, which was first brought in in the summer of 2010, has been a complete success in Wirral – with every residential home having been awarded healthier homes status, giving young people an opportunity to have a healthier start in life.
Gareth Hill, who leads the Healthier Homes programme for the public health directorate at NHS Wirral said: “We want to help young people in Wirral to have every opportunity to lead the healthiest possible lifestyle, whatever their circumstances.
“We’re delighted that ‘Healthier Homes’ has been embraced by so many organisations not just here in Wirral but in parts of Cheshire and Merseyside”.
The ‘Healthier Homes’ standard is supported by Wirral Council, Cheshire & Merseyside Child Health Development Programme and Placements Northwest.
2 May 2012
Not for Profits Welcome Establishment of National Children’s Commissioner
A coalition of Australia’s leading children and youth focused organisations has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of the establishment of a National Children’s Commissioner.
The Attorney-General Nicola Roxon made the announcement at the weekend and says that the Commissioner will “ensure the voices of children and young people are heard in the development of Commonwealth policies and programs”.
The Government said that the Children’s Commissioner will sit within the Australian Human Rights Commission and is expected to be in place by the end of the year.
The coalition of organisations, which includes the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition, Save the Children and UNICEF, says it “cautiously welcomes” the announcement as an important further step in establishing more robust accountability in government policy and practice for children.
James McDougall, Director of Advocacy for Save the Children said that the need for national policy for children that focuses on delivering measurable outcomes is at least 20 years overdue.
“This is an important further step in delivering greater accountability and driving efforts to establish a level playing field for Australia’s most disadvantaged children,” McDougall said.
Having witnessed the impact of poor policy and planning for children, the coalition says that NGOs have long advocated the need for greater accountability of government.
However the coalition has expressed concerns about the level of resources to be provided for the role.
Executive Director of AYAC Andrew Cummings said that a National Commissioner for Children and Young People can bring attention to issues of neglect, abuse and discrimination, but only if given the appropriate resources.
“There are too many instances where lack of a coordinated response by governments and their departments allow children and young people to suffer. Youth homelessness and the health and education of indigenous young people are two obvious examples,” Cummings said.
“A Commissioner must have the resources and support of governments to monitor and review these and other complex areas.”
Meanwhile, UnitingCare Australia says that the introduction of a National Children’s Commissioner was “long overdue” and will raise the profile of the rights of children and young people in Australia.
“The Office of the National Children’s Commissioner must also complement the work of existing institutions, including The Australian Human Rights Commission, Public Advocates and Ombudsman schemes, that are responsible for promoting and protecting the rights of all citizens, including children and young people,” UnitingCare National Director, Lin Hatfield Dodds said.
“This is not a substitute for Government responsibilities, but a mechanism to help children and young people, the broader community and government and public agencies further understand their rights, entitlements and responsibilities.
The children’s coalition, which says it has been working with a wider group of over 40 NGOs to ensure that the government is adequately briefed on the needs and features of the required role, has released an NGO position paper reportedly used to brief the government.
The group has also called for wider support for children from the political process.
“We need bipartisan support for the role to ensure that the outcomes for children are effective,” UNICEF chief executive Dr Norman Gillespie said.
“The Commissioner must have guaranteed independence from Government and distance from the political process.
“We call on all politicians to support a properly resourced Commission,” Gillespie said.
Lin Hatfield Dodds said UnitingCare expects that the work of the Commissioner’s office will be fully funded in the Federal Budget and that “allowances will be made for increased funding as the role becomes established over time”.
The government said that funding for the establishment of the Children’s Commissioner will be fully offset from savings across the Attorney-General’s and the Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolios.
30 April 2012