Monday, May 21, 2007

This Week’s News: Youth in Transition


Alternative Schools Linger in the Shadows
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune – May 12, 2007
Enrollment in state-approved, taxpayer-funded alternative education programs is surging, with nearly 150,000 Minnesota students enrolled – about 25,000 full time – at a cost of more than $217 million a year. But local, state and federal education officials are hard-pressed to say how they or their schools are performing. Absenteeism is rampant, with anywhere from one-fourth to half of students skipping school on a given day. While few alternative students take standardized tests, scores for those who do are alarmingly low: Advocates can recite success stories about young people turning their lives around in alternative programs. And, because so many of their students have failed in traditional schools, alternative educators ask to be judged by different standards. But a state commissioner frets that school districts are pushing too many of their struggling students into alternatives.

Learning What’s Right with Schools
Santa-Barbara Independent – May 14, 2007
Although many Americans worry about public schools in general, they remain positive about their neighborhood schools. Such views are understandable given the general media fascination with negative stories and a continuing political emphasis on only what’s wrong with public schools. In sharp contrast to stories-as-usual, The Center on Education Policy and the American Youth Policy Forum publish a report on the good news associated with public education.

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile defendants may be too immature to stand trial, appeals panel says
Sacramento Bee – May 11, 2007
A California appellate court made it clear for the first time Thursday that some juvenile defendants may simply be too young to stand trial, including an 11-year-old defendant prosecuted for stealing candy bars. The Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal said that children can be so immature that they cannot understand their legal proceedings or assist in their own defense. In doing so, the justices overruled Sacramento juvenile court judges who had ruled that children must have either a mental disorder or a developmental disability to be deemed incompetent to stand trial. While some hailed the ruling for establishing a new legal standard of juvenile competency, Deputy Attorney General Angelo Edralin said it merely instructed juvenile judges to be more thorough
when considering incompetency claims.

Injuries of teen inmates probed
USA Today – May 17, 2007
Texas authorities are investigating whether guards at state juvenile detention facilities broke the bones of 60 young offenders as a result of abusive tactics. The newly disclosed review comes amid spreading concerns about the treatment of teenage inmates. The investigation is part of a criminal inquiry into the Texas Youth Commission, one of the nation's largest juvenile justice systems, with about 4,000 offenders. In the past seven years, juvenile facilities in 11 states have been the focus of federal reviews for possible civil rights violations, according to Justice Department records.

New ‘screening’ tool proposed for juvenile offenders
Baltimore Examiner – May 15, 2007
Every year, Baltimore County authorities identify 2,200 juveniles headed down the wrong path. About 500 end up becoming what police call “repeat serious offenders” who need to be behind bars for the public’s safety. But how can authorities know which of the kids who appear to be going in the wrong direction actually will become dangers to society? The Baltimore County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is designing a new screening tool that it hopes will help determine that. With the help of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, the county is drafting an approximately 30-question form that officials say will identify the “highest-risk” juvenile offenders before it’s too late. Depending on the answers to these questions, the juvenile is then assigned a point total to assess how likely he or she is to become a repeat serious offender. The point of the new screening tool is an attempt to get good data on the county’s most troubled teens.

Foster Care

Group Challenges Evangelicals to Adopt Foster Kids
National Public Radio – May 13, 2007
The Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family held a three-day summit this week to challenge evangelicals to adopt foster children. The federal government estimates that there are half a million kids in foster care in the United States. Some 115,000 are awaiting adoption. The pilot project in Colorado is meant to serve as a national model. On the last day of the summit, churches from Colorado's biggest cities are being brought in to be "challenged" to get their members to adopt.

Troubled children hardest to place
Los Angeles Times – May 17, 2007
Finding adoptive homes for teenage foster kids has always been a challenge. Most languish in foster care until they "age out" at 18, and many of those wind up unemployed, homeless or in jail. For foster children with criminal histories, the situation is even bleaker. Their crimes are typically disciplinary infractions or fighting, running away, vandalism or stealing, actions that might get a teenager with parents grounded but get a youth in foster care hauled off by police. They become wards of the Los Angeles County Probation Department and — with no parents pledging support or homes to return to — are often ordered into group homes or institutions, where they stay even after their terms are completed. Four years ago — prodded by changes in state law and technological advances that make searches easier — the Probation Department launched one of the first programs in the nation aimed at finding adoptive homes for foster children in the juvenile justice system.

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