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World headlines news relating to children, youth and families

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UK: Troubled Families payments 

Some councils will receive upfront funding to pay for support provided through the government's Troubled Families programme as part of a trial, it has been announced. The current Troubled Families programme aims to help 400,000 disadvantaged families with complex needs such as parents on out-of-work benefits, and children who are involved in youth crime, antisocial behaviour, or who are excluded from school, between 2015 and 2020. Local authorities are currently funded on a payment-by-results basis once they have "turned around" a troubled family, but as part of a trial a total of 11 councils will now receive upfront cash. An annual report of the programme's progress states that the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government conducted a review of the funding system last summer, concluding that "on the whole", paying councils based on results is working. "But for some local authorities we think providing upfront investment will spur faster service transformation and drive high-quality support to families both during the lifetime of the programme and beyond," the report states. The new funding system, called "earned autonomy" will be piloted with 11 local authorities from next month.

South Australia spending more on inferior residential care 

Guardian for Children and Young People Penny Wright is concerned the State Government spends the majority of its out-of-home care child protection funding on costly and less suitable residential care. Wright’s comments follow an analysis conducted by the Guardian for Children and Young People into the Productivity Commission’s 2016-17 Report on Government Services (ROGS), which shows South Australia last year spent 65 per cent of its out-of-home care funding on residential care. South Australia’s overall out-of-home (residential, foster and kinship) care expenditure equated to $1092 per child, which is 91 per cent more than the national average. “What’s most concerning is South Australia’s disproportionate reliance on residential care rather than spending more on home-based care,” Wright said. “As well as that, we have more children in emergency care, which is really a quick fix for children coming into the [child protection] system.” The Guardian for Children and Young People’s analysis shows the cost gap per child between residential care (including emergency care) and non-residential out-of-home care placements has widened. “Home-based care is far more beneficial for children,” Wright said. 

USA: Washington state becomes 10th state to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy

This week the state of Washington made history, becoming the first state in 2018, and the 10th state in total, to pass a protection on LGBTQ youth from the barbaric practice of conversion therapy. Conversion therapists falsely claim be able to change LGBTQ youth into straight and cisgender youth. Prominent professional health associations –including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among numerous others – oppose the use of conversion therapy on youth, calling the practice harmful and ineffective. As the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth, The Trevor Project is invested in ending conversion therapy in every state and was proud to submit testimony with our partners such as Equal Rights Washington on the critical need to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. The Trevor Project’s 50 Bills in 50 States campaign works to introduce legislation to prohibit the practice in every state in the country. “Washington has been leading by example. So far bills have been introduced in 34 states, passed in over 30 cities, and nearing passage in states from coast to coast” said Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. They continued “Every week, we celebrate as another local ordinance like the City of Milwaukee or piece of state legislation like the State of Maryland moves closer to protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy.”

USA: Utah passes law to let 'free-range' kids play

Forget helicopter parenting. Utah's kids are now free to do what many people associate with childhood – play at a park or walk and bike to school – alone and without parental supervision. The state is said to be the first in the nation to legalize a so-called free-range parenting law that declares it not neglectful for parents to let their children roam independently. Gov. Gary Herbert recently signed the bill into law, and it is set to take effect May 8. Under the law, children are also permitted to travel to nearby recreational facilities, play outdoors and remain in a vehicle or stay home alone. The law does not define an age limit, but instead says kids should show maturity and good judgment to avoid harm. One of the bill's backers suggested that legal action would still result in cases of actual abuse or neglect, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. "This is to prevent in Utah a problem that has happened in too many other states … where parents have been prosecuted, gotten in trouble for doing nothing more than allowing a child to play outside or go to the park," said state Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem. The controversial debate has divided parents and parenting experts, who are torn between supervising kids for safety reasons versus allowing them to exercise independence. The idea was central to Republican state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore's arguments in support of the measure. Fillmore, who sponsored the bill, warned against over protection and told Salt Lake City's KUTV 2News that "it's not neglect if you let your child experience childhood." Not all states agree. The Arkansas Legislature considered a similar bill last year, but lawmakers finally rejected it. And, in another high-profile case, a Maryland couple made headlines when they were investigated for neglect after allowing their 10- and 6-year-old children to walk about a mile home from a park in Silver Spring. 



UK: Warning over cash for care leaver advisors

There is a significant shortfall in funding for a new duty on councils to provide a personal advisor for care leavers up to the age of 25, according to the Local Government Association. Under the Children and Social Work Act 2017 councils, from 1 April, must extend the availability of advisors providing advice and support having previously been required to offer the service until a care leaver is 21. But the LGA has warned the £12m provided by the government for the additional responsibility will only cover the costs for 20% of care leavers. It also said no extra funding has been provided for councils to provide additional follow-up support, such as short-term financial assistance and housing support for care leavers up to the age of 25. The LGA estimates current government funding must be “at least doubled” to cover council responsibilities or provision will have to be cut elsewhere, with further pressure placed on children’s services facing a funding gap of £2bn by 2020. Chair of the LGA’s children and young people board Richard Watts (Lab) said: “While not every care leaver will need the support, we expect the number to be much higher than what the government has anticipated. “It is essential that this is funded properly by government if we are to help improve young people’s lives and give them the best start in adulthood.”

UK: Young people to shape services through £900,000 fund 

Young people will be given the opportunity to shape their own support services through a new £900,000 fund designed to capture their views and voices. The Listening Fund is intended to mark a shift in the treatment of young people. The Listening Fund will be shared across 22 youth-focused organisations in England to promote creative mechanisms, from new technology and research to board positions for young people, to make sure young people's voices are heard. The fund will target young people facing various disadvantages, including those leaving care or experiencing homelessness, school exclusion, poor mental health and sexual exploitation and abuse. The collaborative initiative between the Big Lottery Fund, the Blagrave Trust, Comic Relief, and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is intended to mark a shift in the treatment of young people, treating them as the solution to problems rather than part of them. Jeane Lowe from Centre 63, a youth centre in Liverpool which will benefit from funding, said: "Young people across society today are facing huge challenges, from increasing youth unemployment to unaffordable housing. "We have got to learn to engage them, listen properly to what they say and value their views if we are going to develop and deliver the services they need to meet these challenges. That's why the Listening Fund is so valuable."

Australia: Youth unemployment in Adelaide's north continues to rise

A new report from the Brotherhood of St Laurence found that northern Adelaide had the ninth worst youth unemployment rate in the nation, while Adelaide’s west was thirteenth worst. Overall, South Australia continues to have the highest level of youth unemployment in the nation, currently sitting at just below 16 per cent unemployment for those aged 15-24. The anti-poverty group used data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collate the report An Unfair Australia? Mapping Youth Unemployment Hotspots, released yesterday. The report shows the Adelaide North region, which has traditionally been the worst unemployment region for those aged 15-24 in South Australia, increased its youth unemployment rate by almost two percentage points since January 2016. Adelaide West, which currently has 17 per cent youth unemployment, featured as one of the regions with the biggest unemployment increases – up 4.6 percentage points in two years. Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Conny Lenneberg said hotspots in outer suburbs and rural areas were carrying the heaviest burden of youth unemployment. “The modern economy is creating new risks for Australia’s emerging generation,” she said. “Disadvantaged young people, in particular, are facing barriers in their effort to secure work [and] to meet this challenge, we need action from governments as well as tapping into efforts of employers in local communities. 



USA: Homelessness a clinical marker for suicide among youth

Researchers discovered that children and teenagers experiencing family homelessness are at higher risk for emotional distress, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide than non-homeless youth. “It’s important to conduct research on the health of youth who’ve experienced family homelessness because these youth and their parents have not historically been able to give voice to tell the world about themselves and what they need to thrive,” said Andrew J. Barnes, MD, MPH, assistant professor and fellowship director, developmental-behavioral pediatrics, University of Minnesota. “Many people are surprised to learn that youth who are homeless with an adult family member make up almost 40% of the entire homeless population in the U.S. and represent the fastest-growing group of people who experience homelessness,” Barnes continued. “Most child health professionals have taken care of youth whose families have been homeless, but we lack scientific knowledge to guide us as we do so. And research that gives voice to this group of youth also informs teachers, policymakers, homeless advocates and families themselves.”Researchers compared the risk of suicidality and factors that may protect against it – such as social competency, self-esteem, school connectedness, parent connectedness, empowerment and academic orientation – between family-homeless and non-homeless children and adolescents using cross-sectional data from 62,034 youth in 8th through 12th grades. 

UK: More than one in three care leavers ends up NEET

More than 30,000 young people spend an entire year not in education, employment or training (NEET) three years after finishing secondary school, according to a major study by the Department for Education. The progress of 637,200 pupils who completed key stage 4 in 2010-11 was tracked for three years by the DfE, in a study released last month. Researchers found that by 2013-14 one in five were NEET at some point during that year with 130,700 young people falling into this category. More than one in ten (11.2 per cent) of the pupils tracked became NEET for at least six months in 2013-14. Worryingly, 30,700 young people were NEET throughout 2013-14, equating to one in 20 (4.8 per cent) of those who finished key stage 4 in 2010-11. Researchers found that more than one in three (37 per cent) of looked after children fell into this category of "long-term NEET". They were twice as likely to end up this way as those who had been identified as "children in need" by the government, of whom less than one in five (18 per cent) went on to become NEET for 12 months. More than one in five of those who had been permanently excluded at school, in alternative provision or had attended a pupil referral unit also became long-term NEET, according to the research.

USA: Kentucky adoption and foster care overhaul nears final passage

A sweeping bill that would overhaul Kentucky’s foster care and adoption system is nearing final passage in the state legislature. A key part of House Bill 1 would give the state more options to terminate the parental rights of negligent parents and try to reduce barriers for people who want to adopt. The legislation would consider babies born with drug addictions to be “abused or neglected,” meaning the state could take steps to terminate parental rights unless the child’s parents take steps to get clean. Rep. David Meade, a Republican from Stanford and lead sponsor of the bill, said it is “unacceptable” for children to be born addicted. “This is twofold – it takes a step to force the parent into drug intervention and it works for the protection of that child,” he said. If passed into law, the bill would give a mother 60 days to enroll in a drug treatment program if her child is born addicted to drugs. If the mother doesn’t comply, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services would petition for the termination of parental rights. The legislation would also set specific timelines whereby parental rights could be terminated if a child can’t safely be returned home but has established foster parents who are willing to adopt. 

UK: More support for care leavers in Nottinghamshire 

People who leave care in Nottinghamshire are set to get additional support once they leave the service. Help will now be available from Nottinghamshire County Council until care leavers turn 25. It comes after a report from OFSTED which found that while there were several positives, the council was ‘not making progress’ quickly enough.
Now, the care service will also recruit an additional 4.5 FTE additional staff and a new manager to help deal with the increased workload. The measures were approved today by Nottinghamshire County Council ’s Children and Young People’s Committee, and will bring the council in line with the law, which is due to change next month. Currently, most people who have been in care are only entitled to support until they turn 21. Philip Owen is the chairman of the committee, as well as being the Conservative councillor for Nuthall and Kimberley. Speaking about the OFSTED report, he said: “I think this is by and large a positive report. The report found that ‘senior leaders have a good understanding of the challenges of the service and have plans to address them. Those plans have been costed and are going to be funded.” The proposals were passed unanimously today. 



USA: Charges filed in 9 local school threat cases since the Parkland, Fla. shooting

In the month since the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school , there has been rash of threats linked to various schools in San Diego County, some of which led to arrests. And while authorities found most of those threats were “not credible,” they stress that there are real consequences for the people who made them. Since Feb. 14 – the day a gunman shot and killed 17 people at Margory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. – there have been 19 school threats reported to local authorities, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. Of those, nine cases have been “issued” in Juvenile Court, meaning charges were filed against the accused. “This is the largest chunk of cases issued in such a short period that I can ever remember,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said in an interview last week. Her office set up a special team in 2014 that investigates and prosecutes school threat cases, and works to better understand threats and the people who make them. Aside from the nine cases pending in Juvenile Court, Stephan said, some of the others have been handled in a variety of ways, like restorative justice – which focuses on rehabilitating young offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large – and other school-based outcomes. And then there are some cases that remain under investigation, Stephan said. 

Canada: Manitoba strengthens child advocate mandate

An expanded mandate for Manitoba’s children’s advocate in the province means children outside of the child welfare system will be able to receive government supports. Bill 9, also known as The Advocate for Children and Youth Act, came into effect on Thursday and stems from the recommendations from the 2013 inquiry into the beating death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair. The Act will allow for the Manitoba Advocate to represent children beyond those in the child welfare system in the province, while also allowing for reports on children who die in the Child and Family Services system. “And to begin to advocate in areas where we know there are some need for changes and we will be able to identify what those changes are,” said Daphne Penrose, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth. The new Act expands beyond the CFS system, allowing the Advocate to support Manitobans from birth to the age of 21 who receive or are eligible to receive services from government, including disability, mental health and addictions supports. Penrose said the new act takes big steps forward for children, youth and families.

UK: 'Little progress' on speech and language support in past decade

Parents face much the same problems as they did 10 years ago in terms of accessing support for children with speech, language and communication needs has found, a study has found. A report by I Can and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists report found that the momentum generated by the government-commissioned 2008 review led by John Bercow MP had not been sustained. The original Bercow report found that in 2008 some 77 per cent of parents and carers said information on children and young people's speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) was hard to obtain. The new Bercow: 10 Years On report found that slightly more (78 per cent) parents and carers feel that way now. It also found that the postcode lottery in SLCN support was as evident today as it was in 2008 and that half of parents had to wait more than six months before their child got the help they needed. "The postcode lottery described by families 10 years ago remains: the support you get depends on where you live or where you go to school," the new report states. The lack of progress comes in spite of changes made in the wake of Bercow's original report including communication being made one of the three primary areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum. The new report said that such progress has been undermined by cuts to services, the removal of speaking and listening from the National Curriculum and communication no longer being a judgment within Ofsted inspections.



USA: Five states where kids suffer high rates of adverse childhood experiences

Five states – Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, New Mexico and Ohio – hold the dubious distinction of leading the country in the percentage of children burdened with three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), between birth and age 17, according to a recent Child Trends report. Nationwide, the report said, one in 10 children had experienced three or more ACEs by the age of 18. In those five states, it was one in every seven children. “There is growing interest in understanding the prevalence of these experiences across different communities in the United States, and how to prevent and respond to them,” said the report. “One mechanism responsible for these effects – toxic levels of stress – can be substantially buffered by a stable and supportive relationship with a caregiver.” ACEs are traumatic events that include parental divorce or separation, living with a caregiver who has mental illness or substance abuse issues, experiencing or witnessing violence in the home or neighborhood, losing a parent to incarceration or death, economic hardship such as lack of food or housing, racial discrimination, and abuse or neglect. High ACEs scores have been linked to numerous negative adult outcomes, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide, poor physical health and obesity, the report said. The report concludes with a call for a public health approach to prevention.  

UK: Government urged to reject foster care proposals that 'weaken children's rights'

A coalition of more than 40 leading children's organisations and experts has written to government urging it to reject several proposals from a major review of the fostering system, because they would "greatly weaken" legal protections for vulnerable children. The government commissioned fostering stocktake, published last month, makes a total of 36 recommendations, including the establishment of a national register of foster carers and improvements to commissioning. But five recommendations, including allowing councils to drop the independent reviewing officer (IRO) role, have been criticised by the Together for Children coalition, whose members include the British Association of Social Workers England, The Fostering Network and former children's commissioner for England Dr Maggie Atkinson. In a letter to children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, the coalition said the five highlighted recommendations should be rejected as they would weaken the legal protection of looked-after children. Regarding the recommendation to axe IROs, the coalition said the role is vital in supporting young people and should be retained. In addition, they are concerned that this recommendation is not backed by evidence and goes beyond the review's remit. "This recommendation could have a profound impact on the rights and welfare of children, including those who are remanded to custody, yet there is a dearth of evidence for it within the stocktake report," states the coalition's letter to Zahawi.

USA: Oklahoma Senate passes anti-LGBTQ bill; HRC calls on House to reject it

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) called out the Oklahoma Senate for passing SB 1140, a bill that would allow child welfare organizations – including adoption and foster care agencies – to turn away qualified Oklahomans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection. A similar bill recently passed the Georgia Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the Georgia House Judiciary Committee. “Bills such as SB 1140 are a clear attempt to solve a ‘problem’ that simply doesn’t exist while enshrining anti-LGBTQ discrimination into law,” said Marty Rouse, national field director for HRC. “If lawmakers in Oklahoma truly wanted to help find permanent homes for the children in the child welfare system, they wouldn’t be focusing on narrowing the pool of potential parents, which only hurts those kids. HRC calls on the Oklahoma House to reject this needless, harmful bill.” “We will continue to fight SB 1140 in the House, we will fight it in the court of public opinion, and we will fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if we have to,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma. “Discrimination is not the Oklahoma Standard, and we will not let it become so.” Child welfare organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Child Welfare League of America and the North American Council on Adoptable Children have condemned similar bills. This most harms children in the system who are awaiting placement in qualified, loving homes and are instead forced to remain in care. Child welfare services should be guided by the overarching principle that guides all family law: all determinations should be in the “best interest of the child.” It isn’t in the best interest of a child to deny them a qualified, loving family simply because that family doesn’t share all of the tenets of the placing agency’s faith. 

Australia: Indigenous committee on right track 

A steering committee has been formed to oversee the review into the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children involved with Child and Youth Protection Services. Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Rachel Stephen-Smith said the review would be chaired by Barbara Causon, who has recently retired from the Australian Public Service. Ms Stephen-Smith said Ms Causon had a strong track record of achievement and performance in challenging positions involving strategic, tactical and operational issues. She said the review, now known as Our Booris, Our Way, was announced in June 2017, with the governance and methodology to be co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts and key Indigenous organisations. She said it would seek to understand the reasons for children and young people entering care and develop strategies to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care, improve their experience and outcomes while in care, and examine ways for children to return home safely. 



UK: Number of child and adolescent psychiatrists falling

The number of child and adolescent psychiatrists has fallen by 6.3% in England over the past four years, their professional body has warned. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is urging the government to allow recruitment from overseas in order to meet the four-week waiting time target it has planned. Kent, Surrey and Sussex have only 3.75 child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children, the college said. In London, the tally is around 17. To increase numbers, the college wants NHS child and adolescent psychiatrists to be added to the shortage occupation list, run by the Home Office. Professions on this list have priority getting visas to employ staff from outside Europe because they are struggling to recruit at home. Old age psychiatrists are currently on the shortage list but child and adolescent psychiatrists are not. Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' child and adolescent faculty said: "Earlier this year an Indian child and adolescent psychiatrist had their visa application rejected because the quota for Tier 2 visas had been reached and they did not qualify as a priority on the shortage specialty list. She said the government's own green paper on children and young people's mental health predicted a rise in referrals, and recruiting from overseas was the key to employing qualified doctors more quickly. 

USA: Arkansas works to overhaul juvenile justice system 

Judges and youth advocates say Arkansas' patchwork juvenile probation system needs an overhaul to treat children in the system more fairly. Efforts are underway in at least 18 of the state's 75 counties to improve probation and the overall juvenile justice system. The goal is to reduce the number of children in detention and to keep them out of court, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. Judges in some of those counties now use probation to connect youth with community services instead of punishment. The changes were prompted by the Arkansas Supreme Court Commission on Children, Youth and Families. The commission is working to roll out a statewide use of risk-assessment tools in every juvenile court case. It's also drafting a consistent set of standards for juvenile probation systems that individual judges in Arkansas can choose to adopt. The commission hired the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice in 2016 to evaluate the probation systems in Pulaski and Sebastian counties and the 10th Judicial District. The report, completed last year, found that children and families involved with the probation system don't always get the help they need, oftentimes because of overworked officers and judges who don't change how they handle such cases. "It's overwhelming," said Tina Stratton, a Franklin County juvenile probation officer. "It's hard to monitor them (youth), to make sure they're going to (court-ordered) counseling consistently." The report found that probation officers had caseloads more than twice what's recommended, inconsistent training and low salaries. The result is that Arkansas children on probation don't get enough support and may re-offend as youth or later as adults.

UNICEF: Cuba a 'champion' of children's rights

According to Unicef 99.5 percent of Cuban children under six years of age attend an early childhood education program or institution. The United Nations Children Fund, or Unicef , has declared Cuba a 'champion' in children's rights. María Cristina Perceval, the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean region, said, Cuba's exemplary model of early education, "Educa a Tu Hijo (Educate Your Child)," is being adopted by many other nations. Perceval, who made the comments during a recent event in Cuba's capital, Havana, also highlighted the significant advances made by the country in health. The Caribbean nation was the first to work towards the elimination of maternal and child transmission of HIV / AIDS in 2015. Health and education policies form the core of Cuba's socialist programs. Cuba first initiated the social program focused on children's well-being, 26 years ago. UNICEF in the region works in collaboration with the government in these social programs. The 'Educate Your Child' initiative promotes the role of family and community in children's formative years. Through the program, the government also prioritizes the participatory methodologies and social commitment in the area of child development. According to the 2016 Unicef report which cited the official statistics from the Ministry of Education, "There are more than 855,000 children under six years of age in Cuba, of whom 99.5 percent attend an early childhood education program or institution." The report added: "Cuba has adopted a holistic approach to early childhood development (ECD), providing children under six and their families with a system of integrated services that aims to promote the best start in life for all children and the maximum development of each child’s potential."  

USA: New Pritzker Center to provide resources, research for foster youth

A new center at UCLA aims to address the needs of youth in foster care by conducting research and providing resources to foster youth and their families. The UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families plans to collaborate with various departments, such as the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the Luskin School of Public Affairs to conduct studies on issues related to foster care. Tyrone Howard, the director, said the center aims to inform more people about existing efforts to support vulnerable youth and foster interdisciplinary collaboration to better help children and their families. “There are a lot of people on the campus of UCLA, faculty and programs that are already committed to this population, yet we don’t oftentimes galvanize (them),” Howard said. “What we hope the center does is that it brings together people in the areas of law, mental health, education and social welfare, who are all dealing with children who are in vulnerable situations.” The center will also provide guardians with resources to support children in their care and lead prevention and intervention efforts to lower the number of children entering the child welfare system, Howard said. Howard said the center also plans to form partnerships between UCLA researchers and other organizations in Los Angeles County, including the Los Angeles County Office of Education and community-based organizations, to share resources and strategies to support foster youth. “Rarely has a university entity had a multidisciplinary approach … to serve children and families in this way that is really tied to the expertise and research that lots of people on our campus are currently engaged in,” he said.



Australia: Child protection report reveals soaring number of investigations

One in 32 Australian children were subject to a protection investigation or response last financial year, a new report has found, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children from lower socio-economic backgrounds and remote areas continuing to be over-represented. It also revealed the rate of Indigenous child removals dropped in the year to 30 June 2017, despite rates of substantiated cases of abuse rising. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released its report on child protection data from 2016-17 amid national outcry about child safety after the alleged rape of a two-year-old girl in Tennant Creek. It revealed increases of between 27% and 45% in substantiated notifications, care and protection orders, and out-of-home care, in the four years to 30 June 2017. Almost three-quarters of the 168,352 children receiving protection services were “repeat clients”, it said. Rates of substantiated abuse cases increased further with remoteness and low socioeconomics, particularly for Indigenous children. The report found almost half of Indigenous children who were the subject of substantiated notifications were from the lowest socioeconomic areas.
Indigenous children were still seven times more likely to receive child protection services and the rate was increasing at a much faster rate than for non-Indigenous children.
The rate of Indigenous children on care and protection orders was 10 times higher. Emotional and physical abuse were the dominant reasons for substantiated notifications in every state and territory except South Australia and the NT, where neglect was the highest proportion.

Canada: No update to Manitoba foster kids tracking system despite calls for change 

A commissioner who investigated the death of a girl who died after falling through the cracks of Manitoba’s child-welfare system says he is disappointed the province still hasn’t replaced the aging computers used to track children. Ted Hughes, who led the inquiry into the 2005 death of Phoenix Sinclair, said his final report made it clear that the decades-old child and family services information network needed to be replaced “without delay.” “I know it’s expensive, but the system needs the link where everything is available, and everyone is part of the system,” Hughes said in an interview from Victoria, B.C. It’s been more than four years since the inquiry issued its final report into the death of five-year-old Phoenix, who had spend stints in foster care before being killed by her mother and stepfather. The inquiry found “protection of children requires a reliable and up-to-date information management system.” The computer network – created in 1993 and moved online in 2006 – has been plagued with problems, including issues with poor internet service, missing information on caseloads (partly because of non-compliance from some child and welfare authorities) and inaccurate data. The former NDP government announced in 2008, 2012 and again in 2014 that the system would be replaced. 

USA: Kansas officials concerned about youth mental health care  

Kansas officials dealing with youth in the local court system are concerned about trends in mental health treatment following a drastic change last year in state juvenile justice laws. A pressing issue for officials is the often monthslong wait to get care for youth needing inpatient psychiatric treatment, the Hutchinson News reported. Troubled teenagers waiting for treatment in Kansas are being sent back home pending placement, which tends to worsen mental health and behavioral issues that initially landed them in court. The growing wait times are a result of a 2017 law meant to divert the costs of keeping juveniles locked up to pay for treatment they need to stay out of jail. But community mental health officials said they aren't seeing much of the $40 million in savings coming back from the state to pay for services. "Senate Bill 367 took away the ability to hold children who are dangerous to themselves in any kind of facility other than an actual psychological kind of facility," said Patricia Macke Dick, chief district judge for Reno County. "It used to be a danger to self or others, but they took out the part about a danger to self, replacing it with danger to property or others." Reno County Community Corrections is assigned more than a dozen new youth to supervise so far this year, pushing the total number under intensive supervision to about 30. Director Randy Regehr said that about half the juvenile population participates in mental health services, and that many youth have to wait months to be placed in a treatment facility. 

New Zealand: Traumatic brain injury an increasingly “hidden” threat

The Laura Ferguson Trust is urging New Zealanders, particularly children and adolescents, who have experienced any head trauma to immediately seek advice from their GP to assess if they have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). “Thirteen per cent of New Zealanders will sustain a brain injury at least once in their lifetime, and it often goes undiagnosed and untreated,” said Kathryn Jones, Chief Executive Officer of Laura Ferguson Trust. “It’s time we shine a light on this hidden disability and the effects it can have on society. Early intervention is critical.” With few “visible” signs to indicate mild trauma, many cases remain undiagnosed. Mild traumatic brain injury or concussion, which is often caused by whiplash or a direct a knock to the head, can limit a person’s ability to function normally and symptoms are often invisible to others. Common symptoms include feeling tired, moodiness, short temper, difficulty concentrating, intolerance of noise and difficulty with memory. “The high correlation between violent behaviour and traumatic brain injury that may have occurred years ago is alarming,” said Jones. “Newly released research* shows that Kiwi male prisoners have a four times higher rate of traumatic brain injury than the average New Zealand population.” 

UK: Up to 1,000 children may have been victims in worst abuse ring 

Up to 1,000 children could have fallen victim to child sexual exploitation in Telford over a 40-year-period, according to a Sunday newspaper. An investigation by the Sunday Mirror gathered allegations of abuse in the Shropshire town said to include cases involving girls as young as 11 who were drugged, beaten and raped. Allegations reported to date back to the 1980s are said to have been mishandled by authorities, with many perpetrators going unpunished, while it was claimed similar abuse is continuing in the area. Telford’s Conservative MP, Lucy Allan, has previously called for a Rotherham-style inquiry into the allegations and called the latest reports “extremely serious and shocking”. “There must now be an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Telford so that our community can have absolute confidence in the authorities,” she told the paper. An estimate of the number of victims was calculated with the help of Professor Liz Kelly, from the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, who reviewed the Mirror’s figures. Dino Nocivelli, a specialist child abuse solicitor, told the newspaper: “These children were treated as sexual commodities by men who inflicted despicable acts of abuse. The survivors deserve an inquiry. “They need to know how abuse took place for so long and why so many perpetrators have never been brought to justice.” 



The Manitoba government is introducing a new Advocate for Child and Youth Act on March 15th

Manitoba Children's Advocate Daphne Penrose explains what some of the new legislation aims to do, moving beyond the Child and Family Services (CFS) system. "Under the new mandate, the capacity for us to begin to advocate for children and family broadens significantly," says Penrose. "If a family is trying to, or is entitled to receive services in the areas of disability, education, mental health, victim support services, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, youth criminal justice or a child transitioning out of care...all of those families and children are eligible to call our office to receive advocacy services if they're having trouble navigating through the government system or not receiving the services they're entitled to." Penrose adds the advocate will also be responsible for tracking recommendations, required to report and document and monitor compliance with recommendations made by her office, as well as public education and the United Nations charter on the convention on the rights of the child, and to do Manitoba based research. The act will include other phases to be rolled out at a later date, which will look at the ability to review and investigate serious inuries and deaths that occur outside the CFS system, with those involved in mental health, addictions or youth justice organizations.

UK: DfE’s removal of specialist contract puts 1.4 million children and young people at risk

The Department for Education has announced that it will be discontinuing the specialist contract for speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) after funding it for the past ten years, leaving one of the most vulnerable groups of children within the UK without support. According to the trust, SLCN is one of the most common childhood disabilities. Estimates indicate that as many as 10% of all children have SLCN, and for a substantial proportion of this group, their needs will be long-term and persistent. Speech, language and communication skills are essential to enabling social mobility – an area the Department has identified as being a key priority – in some areas of social disadvantage, more than 50% of children start school with delayed language skills. The repercussions for undetected and untreated SLCN are devastating. Recent research shows that children with SLCN are at higher risk of exclusion from school and that 60-90% of young people in the youth justice system have SLCN. The Department’s proposed contract – the Strategic Support to the Workforce in Mainstream and Special Schools – is set to come into force on April 1, 2018, and makes no mention of speech, language and communication whatsoever. This will see a significant cut to any funding that SLCN receives and a detrimental reduction of specialist support, resources and services. The Department’s decision to discontinue the specialist SLCN contract, after 10 years of financial support, has seen public outcry. A petition, initiated by NAPLIC, an organisation that represents professionals supporting language and communication development, has amassed over 28,000 signatures in just two weeks.

New York: Homeless youth can stay longer in shelters under new City Council bill

Homeless young people will get to stay longer in the city’s youth shelters under legislation passed by the City Council Wednesday. One bill will let people stay in shelters for runaway and homeless youth through age 24, up from a max of 21 right now. Another will allow young people to stay in crisis shelters for 60 days, up from 30 currently. For transitional shelters, the time limit will increase from 18 to 24 months. Under current law, someone who turns 21 and still has nowhere to live has to leave a youth shelter and seek a spot in a regular adult homeless shelter. “Many 21-year-olds did not feel safe,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson said. “So they wouldn’t end up in the [Department of Homeless Services] system – they’d end up on the street or on the subways.” 

Exposure to childhood violence linked to psychiatric disorders

Investing in diminishing socioeconomic status inequalities and in preventing violent events during childhood may improve the mental health of youths from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, according to a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Federal University of São Paulo. The results showed that having experienced any traumatic event and low socioeconomic status were associated with an internalizing disorder such as depression and anxiety and an externalizing disorder including attention-deficit hyperactivity.  



New Zealand: One in four Kiwi kids sent to child protection services 

A new study into child abuse in New Zealand raises questions as to whether our child welfare systems are resourced and organised appropriately. It found a quarter of Kiwi kids have been reported to child protection services. The report is one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken in this country. The AUT study involves more than 55,443 children born in 1998 – so they're in their late teens now. It found 23.5 percent of Kiwi children have at some time been referred to child protection services. Even more disturbing, it also shows 9.7 percent were a victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect, while 3.1 percent were put into foster care. It's something the Children's Commissioner Andrew Beacroft describes as profoundly concerning. "In every sense [it's] unacceptable, and in all senses an area where huge change is required," he said. "We need to be crystal clear that abuse and neglect have no part in any child's life in New Zealand." The report also raises questions as to whether our child welfare systems are resourced and organised properly. The Ministry for Children says any harm is unacceptable. It was set up to bring about system-wide change designed to drop those numbers dramatically. 

USA: Indiana bill would require sharing school data on homeless and foster care youths

Children who are in foster care or homeless are far less likely to consistently attend school, graduate or go on to college. A bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly would seek to change that by requiring that data about those students be shared between state education officials and the Indiana Department of Child Services. The bill, authored by State Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger, also would require an annual state report on educational outcomes of youths who are homeless or in foster care, including graduation rates, the number who receive graduation waivers, the number who earn specific types of diplomas and other information. "People are starting to see the need (for this data)," DeVon said in a telephone interview. He said the response from other legislators has been positive. Tiffany McKnatt-Smart, of Dunlap, is a foster parent of seven years and a special education paraprofessional in the Elkhart Community Schools. She sees a need for the bill and for additional support for Indiana foster children and their foster families. Many foster children come into state care after being removed from traumatic family settings and can't be expected to immediately achieve at the same standard set for average students, she said. Teachers are evaluated based on how their students perform on standardized tests, and don't have the time or training to provide therapy for traumatized children, she said. "I think it's going to bring us together a little more," McKnatt-Smart said of the bill's goal of sharing data between state agencies.

UK: Government rejects case for mandatory reporting 

Responding to a consultation on mandatory reporting that launched in July 2016, the government said that the majority of those taking part disagreed with introducing new statutory requirements. It said nearly 70 per cent felt mandatory reporting could have an adverse impact on the child protection system and 85 per cent said it would not in itself lead to appropriate action being taken to protect children. The government announced plans to consult on whether to introduce mandatory reporting in October 2014 amid pressure to act to make it easier for professionals to report abuse concerns in the wake of high-profile child sexual abuse and exploitation cases such as the Rotherham scandal. The consultation sought views on the merits of two systems – mandatory reporting, which would require certain practitioners or organisations to report child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place, or a "duty to act", which would require practitioners or organisations to take "appropriate action", which could include reporting. But the government said that the evidence received in the consultation "does not demonstrate that either of the proposals would sufficiently improve outcomes for children". "Rather, feedback suggests that these additional measures could risk creating unnecessary burdens, divert attention from the most serious cases, hamper professional judgement, and potentially jeopardise the vital relationships between social workers and vulnerable families in their care," a government statement said. 

USA: Senator urges support for bill inspired by foster care youth

Connecticut: State Senator Paul Formica (Republican-East Lyme) testified before the state's Committee on Children in support of Senate Bill 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior to the Transfer of a Child to a New Out-of-Home Placement. This bill would require the Department of Children and Families to notify children before they are transferred to a new out-of-home placement so that they can prepare for transfers in the foster care system, according to a release. Formica asked the committee to raise this bill after he met with a group of current and former foster youth advocates who came to the capitol this year as part of Youth at the Capitol Day, organized by CT Voices for Children. At this event, Formica spoke with many young people who were part of the state's foster care system who discussed their own personal experiences including transitioning between foster homes, group homes, and other residential placements. One of their recommendations was to improve the system by addressing notification time between transfers, as this bill now proposes. "The children and young adults who spoke out about their experiences in foster care at Youth at the Capitol Day demonstrated a great deal of strength and bravery in sharing their stories," Formica said in a release. "It is my hope that their stories will be able to help others, and this legislation is one way to address the very concerns they raised." 



Florida: DCF experts arrive Monday to review foster care failures in Hillsborough

A nine member team of outside experts formed by DCF Secretary Mike Carroll arrives Monday in Hillsborough County to begin a comprehensive “peer review” of foster care failures, some of which we first exposed in our 8 On Your Side investigation a month ago. The panel will also look at why Hillsborough’s foster care population is growing at a record rate, with close to 4000 foster kids in the system. The panel will have an open public session starting at 1 p.m. Monday at DCF offices located at 9393 North Florida Avenue in Tampa. Last month we documented foster kids spending days and nights in the parking lot of a Wawa gas station on Waters Ave. Week after week we watched them sitting in caseworkers’ cars instead of going to school, therapy or a foster home. Lorita Shirley, Eckerd Connects’ top foster care executive had been receiving anonymous tips about the Wawa warehousing since November but decided they were not credible. It turned out those detailed tips, at least five of them, were spot on and most likely sent by frustrated caseworkers employed by Eckerd subcontractor Youth and Family Alternatives (YFA). Monday, the DCF team of outside experts will begin reviewing Eckerd’s foster care records and interviewing stakeholders in an effort to improve Hillsborough foster care in light of recent failures, our reports and the ongoing investigations. 

South Africa: Hundreds of children still awaiting foster care placement in Gauteng

A shocking 925 children are still waiting to be placed in foster care by the Gauteng social development department, the Democratic Alliance said on Sunday. According to the department’s third quarter report, the delay in placing children in need of foster care in foster care homes was due to the delay in placing adverts and obtaining relevant reports from psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as obtaining the relevant legal documents from prospective foster parents, DA spokeswoman Refiloe Nt’sekhe said. "This shows poor planning on the part of the department and that the placement of children in foster care is not a priority. According to the 2016/2017 annual report, the department failed to employ 130 social worker bursary holder graduates," she said. In addition to this Gauteng only had 11 social workers who specialised in foster care placements. This was unsustainable considering the case load per social worker."This is unacceptable, as the core mandate of the department is to ensure the well-being of all vulnerable groups, particularly children. Social development is responsible for the heart of government and for looking after the well-being of the most vulnerable. By failing to place children in foster care, they are denying children the opportunity to be raised in a loving family environment," Nt’sekhe said. Children were instead left in institutions, namely child and youth care centres. The department also knew first-hand that children who flourished were those brought up in a loving home.

UK: Adopted children should remain close to birth families, study suggests

A review into the role of social workers in adoptions, commissioned by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), criticised the current practice of denying children close contact with their birth families. The review, carried out by academics at the University of Huddersfield and Royal Holloway University of London, said that severing ties with birth families can have a detrimental effect on children's emotional wellbeing and can lead to identity issues. "Adopted children denied contact can experience serious identity issues and when they are free to seek out their birth families at age 18, adoptive parents can be ill-prepared for the emotional consequences," states the review. On the back of the findings BASW is calling for a rethink of adoption law to consider a more open approach to contact between children and birth families. The organisation has also questioned whether keeping adopted children apart from their birth families is practical given widespread internet access. In its response to the review, BASW states that it will, "call for a review of adoption law in all countries of the UK into whether the assumptions about severance of connection to families of origin is ethical". However, Brid Featherstone, professor of social work at the University of Huddersfield, who led the review, suggested that instead of legislative change a cultural shift among social workers is needed. "You should start from the assumption that direct contact with birth parents ought to be considered," she said. "Usually, adopted children go searching when they get to 18 and it can store up trouble if they haven't had previous contact, enabling them to see their birth parents for good or ill. Adopted people told us that identity is a lifelong issue for them. Where do I come from? Who do I belong to?"

New Zealand : Teens organise March for Our Lives rallies

A passionate group of young university students have organised March For Our Lives sister rallies in four different New Zealand cities to support marches in the U.S. March For Our Lives New Zealand is organising four sister rallies to take place on 24 March in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. The locations of these Marches are in the process of being confirmed, but the tentative venues are as follows: Albert Park (Auckland), Parliament House (Wellington), Cathedral Square (Christchurch), and Union Hall (Dunedin). These rallies are intended to show solidarity with, and support to, the students in the United States as they march in various cities to demand that their lives and safety become a priority. The organising group is a diverse group of Americans and Kiwis, driven by a core group of passionate teenagers. UNICEF’s Youth Participation Manager, Jacqui Southey, had this to say: “The rights of children to be safe at school must take precedence over politics, profits and special interests. Gun reform in the United States is desperately needed to prevent the deaths of any more children due to gun violence. It is only right that it is young people leading on this issue, and we support the young people who are leading the charge in demanding change.” 



USA: Immigrant youth in the youth justice system: What you need to know in 2018

Recent shifts in U.S. policy have placed noncitizen youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system at increased risk of arrest, detention and deportation. Noncitizen parents are also facing increased deportation risks – a threat that undermines family stability while leaving their children – including U.S. citizen and noncitizen youth – grappling with heightened anxiety. To help juvenile justice professionals navigate this evolving landscape, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has published an update to its 2014 practice guide Noncitizen Youth in the Juvenile Justice System. Much like its predecessor, the 2018 update includes information aimed at helping juvenile justice jurisdictions and individual employees develop policies and procedures that align with the core strategies of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI).

Australia to curb tourism to foreign orphanages that exploit children for profit

The federal government has announced plans to divert well-meaning Australian volunteers from foreign orphanages that exploit fake orphans for profit. The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, will announce a campaign involving states, territories, schools and universities to curb Australian involvement in so-called orphanage tourism in developing nations. It is also still considering whether to follow an inquiry’s recommendation to divert Australian government aid funding away from foreign orphanages. The measure falls short of the ban on orphanage tourism called for by a Liberal-led foreign affairs and aid subcommittee late last year. In a joint statement with the education minister, Simon Birmingham, Bishop said the campaign would help volunteers make informed decisions and avoid becoming involved in the exploitation of children. “The Australian government will work with states and territories and universities to ensure school groups and students are not unwittingly visiting or volunteering in programs that exploit children,” the statement said. “This work will help to ensure the good intentions of so many Australians are fulfilled through positive actions that protect them and vulnerable children overseas.” The announcement comes after significant lobbying by the Liberal senator Linda Reynolds within the Coalition. It also comes after campaigns from groups like the Cambodia Children’s Trust and ReThink Orphanages, an alliance of charities and not-for-profits opposed to orphanages in developing nations.

USA: Juvenile injustice – racial disparities in incarceration start early

A new report shows that, just like its adult counterpart, the juvenile justice system is engulfed with overcrowding and racial imbalances. Much like its adult counterpart, the United States’ juvenile justice system teems with racial disparities and overcrowding in settings inundated with non-violent, low-level offenders, according to a new report. Nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative released “Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie” on Tuesday (February 27). Per the report, although Black kids represent less than 14 precent of all American youth under the age of 18, Black boys make up 43 percent of the male population in juvenile facilities, while Black girls comprise 34 percent of incarcerated girls. Native Americans, who represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. youth populace, constitute 3 percent of all girls and 1.5 percent of all boys in juvenile detention facilities. “At every stage of justice involvement, youth of color face disadvantages – overpolicing of their communities, criminalization of their behavior in schools, and a greater likelihood of being tried as adults and held in adult jails,” said report author Wendy Sawyer. “If we want to end the overcriminalization of people of color, we need to take steps to help youth – especially Black and Native youth – avoid confinement, which is traumatic and can lead to further justice involvement down the line.” 

UK: More than half of children in England and Wales bullied about appearance

More than half of children aged 11 to 16 have been bullied about the way they look, with 40% targeted at least once a week, research has found. YMCA England and Wales’s In Your Face report, published on Wednesday, says that “comments and criticisms of young people’s appearance have become part of everyday life”, with 55% of children affected. Most of the bullying focuses on weight and body shape, according to the survey, which lays bare the devastating effect it can have on victims. More than half (53%) of young people who experienced bullying based on their appearance said they had become anxious as a result and 29% had become depressed. One in 10 said they had had suicidal thoughts and 9% that they had self-harmed. Denise Hatton, the chief executive of YMCA England and Wales, said: “Bullying has always existed among young people, but this generation face increasing pressure to live up to unrealistic beauty ideals which they say come from celebrities, social media and the media. “It’s crucial that we teach young people how to feel comfortable in their own body and that looking different isn’t a bad thing. Educating young people about the effects of bullying alongside body confidence will help to tackle this issue where it’s most prevalent, schools.”


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