Debate Rages On Over Proposed Child Runaway Bill

A spirited debate has prompted members of a Georgia House of Representatives subcommittee to call for a second hearing on legislation that would allow homeless shelters to provide emergency housing and services to runaway children without immediate parental notification. Members of the Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee decided to include Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) in a future hearing on the Runaway Youth Safety Act, after scheduled testimony ran over time Tuesday. “We need to hear from DFCS,” said chairman Rep. Ed Setzler, (R-Acworth) of the next hearing to be planned for HB 185. “We need DFCS to be involved.”

As drafted, the measure would protect facilities that serve runaways from violating two state laws: contributing to the unruliness of a minor and interference of custody of a parent, so long as staffers either contact a parent or file an abuse report within the first 72 hours of contact with the child. Committee members sipped on Coca-Cola and Dasani water as they peppered the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Weldon (R-Ringgold),  with questions during the standing-room-only hearing at the state capitol.

Normer Adams: Downing Clark Center

On February 4, 2010, Downing Clark Center’s (DCC) license to provide residential care for 72 behaviorally disturbed children was revoked by the Office of Residential Child Care (ORCC).  This revocation was based on nine alleged violations of licensing rules for Child Caring Institutions that came to “light” as a result of a “riot” on January 5, 2010.  Downing Clark Center appealed this revocation.  On September 23, Administrative Law Judge Steven W. Teate’s ruling reversed this revocation of license and removed seven out of the nine violation citations that led to this revocation.  Two low level safety risk violations of licensing were substantiated by Judge Teate. On the evening of January 5, 2010, a prank 911 call was made to the Gordon County Sheriff’s Department from the Downing Clark Center in Gordon County by one of the residents with a contraband cell phone. Staff immediately advised the arriving deputies that there was no disturbance and everything was in order. Against the staff’s requests, 27 more deputies arrived and initiated what became a full scale police riot.  These male officers barged into this all girl facility against the repeated pleas of staff.  After the deputies exchanged racial slurs and sexist comments with the residents, 20 behaviorally and mentally challenged girls were taken to jail on a variety of charges. Judge Teate could find no basis for the deputies entering the facility based on a prank 911 call.  Video of the entire night clearly showed the facility in order and in control by the staff when the deputies arrived. The deputy’s verbal testimony did not match what the Judge saw on the video.  No disturbance was seen on the video. The video showed no doors breached, no screaming in the hallways and no “total chaos” in the facility.

Normer Adams: DJJ Budget Tragedy

If you thought that the Department of Human Services budget was bad, the Department of Juvenile Justice is a tragedy.  Their FY2012 budget is $102 million less than it was in FY2009.  This represents more than a 30% cut from their 2009 base. In order to meet their budget, significant cuts are proposed to community residential services to youth, cuts to staff, furloughs, and contracts for services. The implications of these cuts are very evident to DJJ as itemized in their impact statement.  DJJ’s ability to meet its core responsibilities are at risk.  In order to continue to meet their obligations, DJJ is proposing additional legislation that will allow it to reduce the number of children entering secure facilities, manage the length of stay in facilities and offer more community services. A detailed analysis presented by the Department shows with legislative support they could move more than 270 children charged with status offenses out of secure facilities into community programs.  

Normer Adams: Engaged to Learn

More than 40% of Georgia’s students are absent from school each year for six or more days; 8.7% are absent more than 15 days.  Foster children do appreciably better than students in the general population do.  Only about 30% of all foster children miss six or more days from school. Students cannot learn unless they are in class.  They have to be present and they have to be engaged.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, speaks to this problem with American education and culture.  He proposes that Asians do better than Americans do academically, not because of some innate intelligence, but purely because they go to school more.  American children spend 180 days in school versus the 280 days that Asian students spend.  He says, “For its poorest students, America doesn’t have a school problem; it has a summer-vacation problem.” Does Georgia want to close the gap between rich and poor students? If so, get rid of summer vacation in its poorest school districts. The same postulate can be made with chronic absences.  A child who is absent from school cannot learn.  Absences reflect other fundamental problems faced by the student: the quality of the school, the stability of the family, the lack of transportation, the lack of health care, the unavailability of childcare and a parent who may be working long hours, for low pay and little flexibility.  Absences speak to whether or not we are meeting the needs of a child and supporting the family. Gladwell was not off the mark with his assessment.  Research shows that absences matter because they adversely affect academic success in the future.  There is a direct correlation between the number of days absent and performance in math and reading in the later grades.   Absence is linked with juvenile crime.  One Colorado study found that 90% of detained juveniles had a history of school absences; 80% of those who were high school dropouts were excessively absent.

Normer Adams: Data Matters

“Anything worth doing is worth measuring,” is the philosophy of the Fostering Court Improvement. Fostering Court Improvement is a non-profit organization that uses data to assist Dependency Courts and Child Welfare Agencies in making informed decisions, managing their operations, monitoring their performance and making systemic changes to improve outcomes for children and families. Their roots and founding are in Georgia. Georgia’s own Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University works very closely with the Family Research Center at the University of Illinois to refine data so that it is usable and accessible to the courts and child welfare agencies.  It is a terrific resource to our State and those involved in advocacy for the wellbeing of children in Georgia. They have an excellent website that has the latest information concerning many states including Georgia. Georgia’s data is very informative and complete.  Data is sorted by county, region, judicial circuit and judicial district.  Comparisons can be made relative to how counties are doing in comparison to each other. Did you know that in regard to counties per 10,000 residents that:

Children subject to maltreatment investigations – Lanier County was the highest (55.5) and Webster County was the lowest number of investigations (0).

Normer Adams: How Are We Doing?

Ed Koch, former New York City Mayor, was famous for asking, “How am I doing?”  He would ask anyone from the man on the street to the highly paid Wall Street executive.  Feedback was important to him.  Feedback should be important to all of us, especially those who work in the area of child welfare. Ask anyone in Georgia, how is Georgia’s child welfare system is doing and the feedback will be a mixed bag.  The feedback lately, is coming back mostly positive.  It is hard to deny numbers delivered through child welfare performance based management that have survived the scrutiny of five years.   The numbers are lending a voice to “Georgia is doing pretty good.”  Child abuse reports are down, the number of children coming into foster care is down.  Since 2008 the number of children exiting foster care has exceeded the number entering by more than a thousand.  The number of children in foster care in 2005 was nearly 14,000–now that number is below 8,000.  Even though the numbers of foster children nationally are down, not all states can claim reductions in the number of children in foster care. Georgia has received some national attention for the work that they have done in this regard.  A Washington Post article spotlighted Georgia as one of the States that has cut foster care populations while at the same time has kept children more safe.  B.J. Walker, Commissioner of DHS, said in that article that a thorough approach at the front end and supporting high-risk families without removing children was the key to making it happen. Everyone would agree that children should only be brought into care when it is unsafe to keep them at home.  The holy grail of child welfare is to reduce the number of children in Georgia’s foster care system while keeping them safe at home.  Georgia seems to be doing this very well.  The percent of children that experienced repeat maltreatment in 2005 was 8%.  While everyone acknowledges that no child should ever experience maltreatment while under the supervision of the state, the National standard for that measure is just above 5%.  Georgia’s present rate is just above 2%.  These are incredible accomplishments for Georgia’s child welfare system in a relatively short period of time. Family centered practices are credited with much of this improvement.  Families are expected to be responsible for the care of their own children.  In spite of economic strains, Georgia is providing more supports to families.  When this all began, Georgia was only giving about 10,000 families support.  Presently about 25,000 are receiving some type of family supports.  These supports include anything from parent training to day care to crisis management to connections to food stamps.  Virtually all families want to care for their children if given the supports to do so.

Why Dads matter

By Normer Adams

It is not hard to believe that Father’s Day did not become a national holiday until 1972.  America has always had an ambivalence about fathers.  Mother’s day is often celebrated with almost reverence, whereas Father’s Day is often the target of much satire, parody and derision.  Fathers often are regarded as the “second adult” in the home and only incidental to the development of a child.  Close to 30% of all children in Georgia live in households without a father.  An African American child’s chances of living with a single mother household is more than 60%.  With statistics like these, one can see why fathers are relegated as incidental and not essential. All this is changing.  Children raised without a father’s involvement are at a serious disadvantage.  A couple of credible studies confirm the negative consequences of fatherless homes. 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census
90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes
85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (Source: Center for Disease Control)
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes (Source: Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26, 1978.)
71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (Source: National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.)
75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes (Source: Rainbows for all Gods Children.)
70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988)
85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home (Source: Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept.