Sunday, March 30, 2008

This Week's News: Youth in Transition


Low Graduation Rate Draws Florida Lawsuit
The Christian Science Monitor – March 26, 2008
Amid mounting national frustration over high school graduation rates, the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida has been thrust onto center stage. In a class-action lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union is demanding that the district boost its graduation rates and reduce the gaps in those rates between racial and socioeconomic groups. The lawsuit is the first in the United States to make such demands of a school district, the ACLU and other sources say. Lawyers from the national ACLU and its Florida chapter filed the suit in state court on March 18. Specifically, the ACLU is asking the court to require the district to improve its graduation rates by a certain percentage each year – overall and for subgroups. It also wants the court to determine a more accurate way of calculating graduation rates – a complex issue nationwide.

House OKs bill to quit No Child Left Behind Act
The Arizona Republic – March 27, 2008
The Arizona House of Representatives is on the verge of opting out of the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush’s premier educational accomplishment. On a voice vote Wednesday, the House approved a bill sponsored by state Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, that would make Arizona the first state in the nation to leave behind the act and its education mandates. It would take effect on July 1, 2010. But it would leave the state with $600 million hole in its schools budget, as it would lose federal education dollars by opting out of the program. “The problem is, we would lose over a half-billion dollars a year,” he said. “And it would go to the schools that need it the most: the low-income schools.”

Juvenile Justice

Youth Advocates Call on NY to Close Empty Juvenile Jails
WAMC – March 26, 2008
Community Organizations, advocates and lawmakers gathered in Albany for an event focusing on the juvenile detention facilities that the Office of Children and Family Services is trying to close. Back in January the OCFS announced plans to close six underutilized facilities in the juvenile justice system. The annual cost to taxpayers to keep such facilities open is around 200-thousand dollars a year per child. The advocates say those facilities are failing to rehabilitate young offenders. They’re calling for the development of preventive programs as alternatives to incarceration and urging that existing programs be utilized… most of these programs cost, at the highest level, 15 thousand dollars a year per child. The coalition is urging the state to use the cost savings from facility closures to boost these alternative programs. They’ve got a fight on their hands: On March 12th, the New York State Senate introduced a budget resolution to keep three facilities open, even though the facilities are either mostly or completely empty. It would also prohibit the transfer of any staff member or residents to alternate facilities.

Juvenile justice system’s problems require more aid, state panel finds
Sun-Sentinel – March 28, 2008
At a time when Florida legislators slash away at the state budget, members of a Blueprint Commission that studied ways to improve juvenile justice say it’s time to invest in the system, not make cuts. Meeting Thursday at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center before a mix of school, law enforcement and court officials, local representatives of the statewide commission outlined their recently released recommendations to “get smart” about juvenile justice. Among their findings: More girls are committing crimes, too many children who don’t need to be locked up are sent to secure detention facilities, and there is a disproportionate presence of children from minority backgrounds in the system. Department of Juvenile Justice employees are underpaid, more community-based programs are needed and public schools systems are overusing zero-tolerance policies, the commission also concluded. The commission, led by Florida Atlantic University President Frank Brogan, identified 52 recommendations for change over the next few years.

Foster Care

Courts lose some say on kids in state’s care – March 24, 2008
Tucked into the 600 pages of tax-reform legislation signed into law last week by Gov. Mitch Daniels are several provisions that will mean judges might no longer get the last word in deciding what’s best for abused children in the state’s care. The coming changes have already made judges and others apprehensive, though advocates say they will deliver millions in savings to taxpayers while expanding the state’s ability to collect federal reimbursements. The new policies and procedures outlined in House Enrolled Act 1001 are part of a shift that makes the state, rather than countries, responsible for the $440 million annual cost of providing services to abused and neglected children and their families as well as youths in the juvenile justice system. While the primary reason for the changes is to improve service, Payne said containing program costs was a major consideration when legislators agreed to assume the costs of child welfare.

First-ever pact with county excludes financial assistance
The Union-Tribune – March 25, 2008
County foster children are moving to the top of the admissions list at Cal State San Marcos under what officials are calling a historic agreement. The university – which rejected almost 2,600 applicants last year – is guaranteeing enrollment to any foster youth who meets its admissions standards in a deal between the school and San Diego County, which has about 6,000 children in its foster system. About 200 turn 18 years old each year. No financial assistance is included with the guarantee, although the university has a program to help foster youths make the transition to college and apply for financial aid. Supporters say the agreement gives students a goal to strive for, knowing that if they keep their grades up, they will be able to go to college.

Lives rebuilt, a page at a time
Chicago Tribune – March 29, 2008
In almost three years since her arrival, Clarissa has received quite a lot from her foster family. But when it came to filling in the blanks of her past, everyone came up empty. The artifacts of childhood – report cards, photos, drawings, sports and academic awards – vanished in the countless moves from one new home to another. Now, child-welfare professionals have figured out a way to preserve personal histories for this transient group: a powerful new tool called a Lifebook. Part photo album, part journal, the resource is designed to include not just happy, soft-focus memories, but the hard truths that often accompany chaotic lives. By giving children a place to record complicated facts and feelings, experts believe a Lifebook is a way to build a bridge to the past and promote healing in the future. The details not only help youths keep track of their own personal narratives, but can also provide a road map for the social worker, foster parent and other adults who may play key roles in dealing with trauma and loss.

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