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News from the field of Child and Youth Care

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20 OCTOBER 2017

Ireland: Adoption amendments come into force

Dr Katherine Zappone TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs today signed the Commencement Order to give effect to the provisions in the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017.

Minister Zappone said “I am very pleased to have signed the Commencement Order for the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017. Adoption is a hugely significant event in the life of a child. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am conscious of the importance of providing for an adoption process that is fully inclusive of everyone involved and where children’s best interests are always at the heart of decisions involving them.”

The primary purpose of the Adoption (Amendment) Act 2017 is to give effect to Article 42A (Children) of the Constitution, in so far as it relates to adoption. In particular, the Act provides for:

These provisions will be commenced on the 19th of October 2017.

Section 24(1)(a) provides that before making an application for a child to be adopted because of parental failure, Tusla – the Child and Family Agency – must be satisfied that every reasonable effort has been made to support the parents of the child in question. This section will be commenced on the 1st of February 2018.

Concluding, the Minister said “I welcome all of these positive changes to the adoption regime; as a diverse society we now have many different types of families, and our legislation must reflect the complex realities of modern family life.”

17 October 2017

Department of Children and Youth Affairs 

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USA

Wyden Introduces bipartisan Child Welfare Act to improve Government oversight of foster care

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., this week introduced bipartisan legislation that would strengthen oversight and accountability of child welfare systems and individual providers, improve training for caseworkers, and provide incentives for more children in foster care to be placed with family members.

The Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act introduced by Wyden, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, follows their report detailing a two-year investigation into foster care privatization and the increasing practice of states tasking private entities with protecting our nation’s most vulnerable children. The bill, along with the report’s recommendations, were written to respond to child welfare system shortcomings in Oregon and across the nation.

“It is outrageous and heartbreaking that so many vulnerable children experience neglect and abuse within our foster care system,” Wyden said. “The ultimate indictment of this system is there is so little oversight that the government can’t even confirm the gaps that caring advocates tell us are getting worse. What’s even more outrageous is that efforts to fix flaws in the system have been held up by stonewalling in the United States Senate. To end this unacceptable treatment of children I intend to doggedly pursue the report’s recommendations. Chairman Hatch and I are committed to making this issue a priority for the committee and will work to bring America’s foster care systems up to the standards our children deserve.”

The Senate Finance Committee investigation – launched in April 2015 with inquiries to the governors of all 50 states -- examined the privatization of foster care services in the 33 states that responded. The investigation found that flaws in data collection and oversight structures at both the state and federal levels make it difficult and sometimes impossible to monitor the operations of the child welfare system, especially its private providers, and ensure that foster children receive proper care.

One specific private company, The MENTOR Network – one of the largest for-profit providers of foster care services in the U.S. – voluntarily provided data and analysis that showed that over a 10-year period, about 70 percent of children’s deaths were unexpected.

The bipartisan Child Welfare Oversight and Accountability Act would require states to maintain a public website of all private foster care companies and report to the Department of Health and Human Services performance measures for each foster care provider when it comes to preventing child deaths and abuse. The bill establishes a new penalty process for states that are out of compliance with federal child welfare standards and reinvests penalty dollars into the areas most in need of improvement.

It would also require states to set limits on the number of caseloads caseworkers are handling, encourage more relatives to take in foster children and make it easier to get more caseworkers trained and into the field.

An executive summary of the report can be found here.

17 October 2017

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16 OCTOBER

CANADA

Ontario partnering with industry to create more opportunities for black youth

Ontario is helping Black youth with postsecondary education prepare for their careers through a new program that will increase their representation in sectors such as engineering, insurance and finance.

The Industry-Led Career Initiative is part of the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan, and aims to reduce employment and income disparities among young professionals. Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, announced the initiative today at the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Ontario is encouraging organizations to apply now to receive funding to develop industry-specific training and job placement programs. Successful organizations will receive up to $375,000 per year to create programs in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Ottawa and Windsor.

The Ontario Black Youth Action Plan is a four-year, $47-million commitment to help reduce disparities for more than 10,000 Black children, youth and families in communities across the province.

Eliminating systemic racism and advancing racial equity is part of our plan to create jobs, grow our economy and help people in their everyday lives.

Quick facts

• Ontario will invest $1.5 million per year starting in 2018-’19 to support the Industry-Led Career Initiative, as part of the Ontario Black Youth Action Plan.
• The program is being designed with the help of an external implementation steering committee made up of youth, leaders and experts from the Black community, as well as with feedback received from community engagement sessions.
• Black adults have lower median incomes compared to the overall population.
• The program will increase representation of Black professionals in key industries, such as engineering, life sciences, finance and insurance, as well as in management.
• As part of A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan, Ontario will also be releasing an Anti-Black Racism Strategy later this fall.

13 October 2017

Ministry of Children and Youth Services 

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13 OCTOBER

UN experts urge States to protect all migrant children

States must step up their work to protect migrant children from sale, trafficking and other forms of exploitation, two UN experts say in a joint study, warning that many children currently suffer sexual and labour exploitation amid “ineffective” action by countries around the world.

Children fleeing conflict and disasters face high risks of exploitation – with lone children facing particular dangers – and States are falling short in their duty to protect them, said Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, and Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, presenting their joint report to the General Assembly in New York.

“States must recognize the international protection needs of children who flee conflicts and crises,” the experts said. “In particular, States must ensure that unaccompanied and separated children are promptly identified, registered and referred to the child protection system.”

“All children, including those accompanied by parents or other legal guardians, must be treated as individual rights-holders, not criminals,” they added.

The UN experts said States’ existing responses to the various forms of exploitation faced by children fleeing conflict and humanitarian crisis were largely ineffective and led to precariousness.

“In spite of some promising practices, the interim care and durable solutions for vulnerable children on the move often do not consider the specific needs of children, especially those separated or unaccompanied who live in mixed spaces with adult migrants or refugees in areas or camps that lack basic amenities,” the experts said.

“All children on the move are vulnerable to sale, trafficking and other forms of exploitation,” the experts said. “Children must be protected first and foremost as children. Tailored solutions must be adopted for each case, including as appropriate additional protection offered by national legislation providing assistance, protection and residence status to children close to adulthood.”

Too often States fail to protect children and to identify indicators of trafficking and exploitation. “The existence of numerous cases of sexual exploitation of children, even in refugee camps and state-run facilities is an additional indication of the failure of a protection system meant to safeguard them.”

In their joint report, the UN experts urge States to adopt proactive protection measures for children affected by conflict and crisis, such as family- and community-based solutions and creating safe child-friendly spaces. They also advised strengthening the professionals working with migrants and refugees where they live and where they arrive in large numbers, and train them to identify international protection entitlements as well as indicators of sale, trafficking and other forms of exploitation.”

“States should also make sure children can easily report sexual abuse and exploitation, and ensure that those without family members are placed with trained guardians as soon as possible,” they added.

“The sale of and trafficking in children has to be prevented, with a particular focus on protecting orphans, children left behind by parents fleeing conflict, and those who have fled conflict and crises without their families,” the experts said.

“States must adopt measures to prevent the sexual and labour exploitation of children, including by establishing accessible, safe and regular channels of migration, respecting the principle of non-refoulement and ensuring that migrant and refugee children have regular access to education and life skills training in the host country,” the experts added.

11 October 2017

Press Release: United Nations

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11 OCTOBER

UK

Experts warn of 'lack of learning' from social care innovation failures

The children's social care system tends to "bury failure" rather than learning valuable lessons and sharing the findings, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie) has said.

A briefing put together by the organisation, Improving Outcomes for Children and Young People by Spreading Innovation, said that the Department for Education's Social Care Innovation Programme has put a spotlight on many new innovative approaches in the sector, but the challenge is how to maximise the impact of this work.

It highlights "learning from failure" as a "system-wide issue" that needs to be considered in the future.

A number of projects funded through the innovation programme have received positive evaluations. The Pause Project – which was first set up in Hackney to support women who have already had a child taken into care to break the cycle of repeat pregnancies – saves councils up to £2.1m a year. However, Scie said negative evaluation reports are not common.

"Innovation implies that some ideas will fail, but it is noticeable that very few of the DfE Innovation Programme projects received a negative evaluation," the briefing states.

"Was this because risky, but potentially effective, projects were screened out at the application stage?

"Children's social care is a risk-averse culture where failure is likely to be buried rather than shared, but there is much that can be learned from ideas that do not succeed.

"What would it take to be able to fail quickly and safely to enable rapid learning?"

The briefing also highlights a number of common characteristics from successful projects, including effective communication with children, families and communities, a willingness to learn and a realisation that improving practice is a long-term commitment.

"There are some great examples of innovation going on in children's services, and we're beginning to understand the conditions for success – things like a clear vision, evidence of impact, and a commitment to be in it for the long haul," Scie chief executive Tony Hunter said.

"To maximise on these and replicate them elsewhere, we also need to draw on what's worked elsewhere, and our years of experience, to create the conditions where innovation can spread more quickly, and make more difference to the lives of children and young people."

In March, Association of Directors of Children's Services president Alison Michalska raised concerns that the innovation programme is being hindered because information about what works is not being effectively shared and "hasn't really been coherent".

By Joe Lepper

6 October 2017

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9 OCTOBER

CANADA

Cultural identity of Indigenous children to play key role in Quebec's Youth Protection Act

Indigenous leaders are applauding the new direction the Quebec government has taken in its approach to foster care for Indigenous children.

Cultural preservation will now play a key role in the decision-making process, which means children will be ''entrusted to a member of his extended family or of the community'' when possible.

''Taking children away from their families is extending the trauma of residential schools,'' said Nadine Vollant, the director of social services for the Uauitshitun health centre in Uashat mak Mani-utenam, on Quebec's North Shore.

Under the modified law, Indigenous communities will be able to acquire skills and become more autonomous when it comes to youth protection services, said Vollant.

''Several communities told us this was a preoccupation for them'' said Quebec Minister of Youth Protection Lucie Charlebois, who lead the consultations on Bill 99.

Recognizing the importance of cultural preservation has been underlined by several bodies, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

''Keeping children in culturally appropriate environments'' was one of the 94 calls to action made by the Commission in its final 2015 report.

The amendments to the Youth Protection Act were unanimously adopted by Quebec's National Assembly on Oct.4, days before Ottawa announced it had reached an $800-million settlement with adoptees of the Sixties Scoop, during which Indigenous children were sent for adoption outside their communities.

More consideration for foster families

The Federation that represents foster families in Quebec (FFARIQ) hopes to increase its outreach in Indigenous communities to make sure children's rights are respected.
Another amendment to the act, which guarantees foster families will be included in discussions surrounding a child's case, will also mean more input from Indigenous foster families in the system.

''By allowing foster families to speak directly with a judge instead of going through a social worker, we will ensure decisions are made in the child's best interest,'' said president Geneviève Rioux.

A big step forward

The Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, said Bill 99 is particularly significant for Indigenous communities.
''Contrary to the rest of the country and Quebec, half of our population is under the age of 25,'' said Picard.

Picard said he's encouraged by the fact that Indigenous leaders were invited to take part in the consultations and hopes this become the norm and not the exception.
''We are ready to engage in constructive dialogue, instead of always reacting to decisions made by foreign governments,'' he said.

Geoff Kelley, the minister responsible for Native Affairs, said Quebec is committed to integrating First Nations and Inuit communities in its policy making.
''There's a consensus within our society that we have to do a better job,'' said Kelley, calling Bill 99 a ''big step forward."

By Julia Page

7 October 2017 

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6 OCTOBER

South Africa: Child Probation Services Workshop – Department to establish child justice Task Team  

The Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) will establish a Task Team within the Provincial Child Justice Forum, to tackle issues affecting the smooth implementation of the Child Justice Act of 2008.

This comes in the wake of a multi-stakeholder Child Probation Services Workshop held last week. The department invited all key role-players in the administration of the Child Justice Act, including the;

The aim of the workshop was to build consensus on best operating procedures with regards to the administration of justice to children who are in conflict with the law. Additionally, the workshop aimed to build better cooperation among stakeholders and discuss interventions which could deal with shared challenges in administering the Act.

In his address to the workshop, Western Cape Social Development Minister, Albert Fritz, made it clear that our efforts as role-players must be to ever increasingly divert children away from the criminal justice system and into affirming social programmes.

"We must work harder to create opportunities for children that'll see them avoid choosing a life of crime completely, whilst simultaneously improving our coordination of services under the Child Justice Act in the best interests of the child", said Minister Fritz. "As a department, we will continue to invest heavily in our provision of highly trained and specialised Probation Officers and in our Secure Care Centres", he said.

The department has 89 Probation Officers, and 48 Assistant Probation Officers within the staff complement. These are qualified social workers employed by DSD, and are specialists in the child justice system. Their core functions include amongst other things, behavior management, crime prevention, conducting pre-sentencing investigations, and the compilation and presentation of reports to courts.

Crimes committed by children were increasingly becoming more serious and more violent. The most common offences committed by children within our Secure Care Centres, murder, common assault, housebreaking and theft, attempted murder, and rape.

Most sentenced children are in detention periods for short periods, however there is an increase in children serving longer detention periods.

As a department we remain committed to rendering quality services to all children, including children in conflict with the law. Key to our efforts will be to ensure we can cooperate efficiently with our Child Justice Act partners.

27 September 2017

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4 OCTOBER

New Zealand: Why are teen risky behaviour rates lower than the 1990s?

Today’s adolescents are ‘better behaved’ than teens in the 1990s overall, but why this is so remains quite a mystery, the Public Health Association Conference in Christchurch heard today.

And the news isn't necessarily all good.

Jude Ball, a public health research fellow at the University of Otago, Wellington, said we don't fully understand the causes behind declines in adolescent risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking, drug taking and unsafe sex.

Ms Ball is writing a thesis about trends in adolescent behaviour and her presentation was about the worldwide research exploring how larger-scale social changes may be influencing individual behaviours.

She said that while it is difficult to make direct comparisons between countries, it is interesting that there have been almost simultaneous and major declines across a range of countries and behaviours – and across all main ethnic and socioeconomic groups as well.

Her research focuses on New Zealand, Australia, the US and England, but she says the same declines can be seen in other high-income jurisdictions, but not all – Austria, Denmark and Italy for example.

“It’s not that young people are healthier. They’re not eating better or getting more exercise, and there’s evidence of rising mental health issues.”

She said her research suggests public health interventions like tobacco tax may have played a role in the decline but that the decline similarities across countries, despite different regulatory contexts, suggests broader social forces are at play.

Other hypotheses include that social media is replacing risky behaviours because adolescents can be cool and sociable without drinking, or that gaming, texting and social media means they are less inclined, or have less time, to drink and smoke.

“While this is a popular notion, there’s also a large body of evidence against it. Such theories remain largely untested, so much is still to be learned,” she said.

“On the face of it, these trends are really positive from a public health perspective. Risk of long-term harm is greater when kids engage with substances, so reducing and delaying use is important.

“But because the drivers of the decline are largely unknown, we need to be alert to the possibility that rising mental health problems and falling risk behaviours might be two sides of the same coin – driven perhaps by pressure to succeed or by increasing social isolation.” 

3 October 2017

Press Release: Public Health Association 

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2 OCTOBER

NETHERLANDS

Youth initiated mentoring: How it can reduce the use of out-of-home youth care

Introduction

In the Netherlands, professional care for youth with complex needs that may put them at risk for being removed from the home, separating them from their family, is a process which consistently lacks consistency. These disturbances often lead to the youth searching for ‘arenas of comfort’, which may be a physical space or even a relationship, where the youth can feel accepted. These arenas can provide a space for youth to cope with changes and stressors in other facets of their lives.
While many youth services seek to provide a stable case worker to at-risk children, the researchers in the present study sought instead to leverage the youth’s existing social network to identify an informal mentor. Such mentors are typically relatives, neighbors, or even friends. These mentors are nominated by the youth themselves, in an approach entitled “Youth Initiated Mentoring” (YIM).

The social support provided by the YIM can have a host of benefits for the youth. Generally speaking, social support has been linked with a range of positive social, physical, and mental health outcomes. Individuals with social support tend to cope more effectively with stress, for example. At a stage where the parent-adolescent relationship is changing, with the youth potentially seeking greater autonomy, often focusing more on peer relationships.

The YIM approach is “a systemic treatment approach in which access, mobilisation, and consultation of informal mentors” is a key aspect of the treatment plan for at-risk youth. This approach is characterized by four phases, covering six to nine months:

1: Who? – Which member of the social network can become the YIM? Youth care professionals work with the youth to identify an individual from a space and relationship they trust which the youth would like to serve as their YIM. Once nominated, the youth care workers brief the potential YIM on the responsibilities, privacy rules, the type of support they will provide.
2: What? – What is everyone’s perspective on the current situation? This phase integrates feedback from both the youth, YIM, parents on the individual, family, and systemic problems experienced by the youth. Through this process, potential solutions are developed.
3: How? – What role will each individual in this constellation of professionals, YIM, youth, and family play in supporting the youth’s care plan?
4: Adaptability – This phase is focused on determining the flexibility of the constellation of care in facing future challenges that may arise.
The present study uses data from six organizations where the YIM approach was developed to determine whether the YIM model is feasible in providing care to youths who would otherwise be placed in residential treatment out of the home. The authors wanted to identify whether youths were able to identify someone from their network as a YIM as well as what differences arose between youth receiving YIM support and those who received residential care (the “treatment as usual” condition).

Methods
The present study utilized case file analyses of 200 youths, split almost evenly between YIM (N=96) and treatment-as-usual (N=104). Almost two thirds of the participants were male (63.5%), and ages ranged from 11-19 years of age, with an average age of 15.4 years (SD= 1.81). The treatment-as-usual group was selected randomly by the researchers from their files of children who received treatment between January and December 2012. Due to ongoing treatment, 18 youths in the YIM condition were not included in all analyses.

Descriptive information was collected on the participants. The authors also assessed the level of youth problems and their severity through their psycho-social functioning, physical health, cognitive development, family status, and social environment.

Chi-square analysis was used to determine whether there were differences between the two groups in the study.

Results
Of the 78 youths assessed in the YIM condition, 65 (83%) were able to nominate a YIM within an average of 33 days. Of those, 28 nominated a family member (43%), eleven selected a friend (17%), eight a friend of their parents (12%), seven an acquaintance (11%), and three a neighbor (5%). Eight youths selected another person, such as a coach or a teacher.

Of the 70 families who received ambulatory care instead of residential treatment out of the home, only eight reached a point where out-of-home placement was necessary.

Discussion and conclusion
The present study speaks to the potential of YIM in serving youths who may otherwise need to spend time in residential treatment for social problems. While the five weeks it took the average participant to identify a YIM, put into context, with rapport already a factor, this is a relatively short amount of time. The YIM organizational structure is also much more streamlined than typical residential care. This reduces the burden on the youth services system as well as the family.
While the YIM approach in this context does not replace the need for residential treatment, as the eight participants who required residential treatment during the course of the intervention demonstrate, it can greatly reduce the reliance on such measures. In times of shrinking budgets, this may serve as a welcome addition to the provision of care for youths facing difficulties.

By Justin Preston

21 September 2017
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