Foster Youth Uninterrupted
The year began with President Barack Obama signing the Uninterrupted Scholars Act, which permits caseworkers to access academic records of foster youth without the permission of a birth parent or court official.
The bill was borne of input gleaned by the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth during a listening tour in 2012. Often, the caucus heard, a foster youth’s academic progress is stunted while child welfare agencies push through the process of obtaining records. This is particularly problematic when the youth needs to change schools.
The bill was passed in 2013, so look for 2014 to be marked by schools and systems trying to figure out the best way to make information-sharing function. Proponents of the federal law have already begun to help out in this arena.
Juvenile Justice Universe Continues to Expand
There are only ten states remaining where the presumptive place for a 17 year-old delinquent is adult court. This, after both Illinois and Massachusetts passed legislation to raise their respective ages of jurisdiction to 18 in 2013.
The year capped a three-year run in which 16 states have moved to shield more juveniles from the adult system.
The purported motivation for the change in Massachusetts should be of particular interest to readers in other states. When the law passed, local scribe Andy Metzger reported thusly in the Dorchester Reporter:
If it becomes law, the change will head off a new federal law set to go into effect in August that would require those under 18 to be segregated from the rest of the inmate population at adult corrections facilities, according to lawmakers.
The federal law to which he refers to is the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which indeed requires that jails and prisons keep juveniles separate without resorting to isolation.
Look for juvenile justice advocates to sell the Massachusetts solution – “Why worry about this, just keep them in juvenile systems and/or facilities until they’re 18?” – to other states in 2014.
PREA in Juvenile
The PREA standards for adult facilities may end up having a real impact on juvenile offenders, but it is yet to be seen whether the standards for juvenile facilities will have any impact, or how many facilities will even try to meet them.
The biggest PREA onus placed on facilities in some states is an increase in staffing ratios, although that does not take effect until 2017. A standard requiring more staff is somewhat curious when one considers that the vast, vast majority of sexual activity in juvenile facilities occurs between staff and wards.
There are more than a hundred other standards that juvenile facilities must meet to be PREA compliant, and the deadline for all of them to have an audit done is this August.
So far: one facility has completed an audit (Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center). The prospects for a last-minute surge in audits are hampered by the fact that there are currently about ten people approved by the feds to conduct these audits.
Seeds of IV-E Change
For the first time since the mid-2000s, the discussion about how federal government supports state and local child welfare services has intensified. To wit:
Annie E. Casey Foundation and Jim Casey Youth Opportunities have proposed a massive shift in the way that states receive reimbursement under IV-E, the multi-billion dollar entitlement for foster care services administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The foundations would like to see IV-E used to improve foster care services, but limit the amount of time most youths experience those services.
The proposal has been met with some wariness about the hard limits it sets on time and placement options that HHS would help for. Next year, the foundations intend to host events inside and outside the beltway to discuss and promote their plan.
Another branch on the Casey tree, Casey Family Programs, would like to see HHS put more money into efforts to keep children out of foster care in the first place. CFP has worked with Brookings Institution to find consensus among child welfare experts and advocates on how this could work.
There does not appear to be much appetite in those factions for turning the IV-E entitlement into a capped allocation that states could use for either foster care or prevention, although Republicans would be happy to do it.
Those same Republicans will never support a more flexible entitlement. As Brookings expert Ron Haskins said: “We can’t just give states the ability to just spend on A, B, C, D and E. They will figure out how to build bridges with that.”
Legislation to reauthorize the federal adoption incentives is moving in both houses, and each version would for the first time reward states for arranging guardianship assistance placements. The final legislative product, if there is one, may also place a higher premium on adoptions of older youths, which scarily means anyone over the ripe old age of eight.
The final bill could also include two very interesting riders to the Senate bill: a requirement for states to track failed adoptions, and a limit on the use of long-term foster care as a legitimate plan for children in the system.
A Precedent Avoided
This time last year, Damon Adams and Chereece Bell of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services stood accused of homicide, allegedly complicit in the death of Marchella Brett-Pierce, a 4-year-old known to the agency who in 2010 was found dead, drugged and beaten. Adams had falsified reports to make it look like he visited Marchella’s home more often than he had; Bell was his supervisor.
This month, the two pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges, and will likely have the records of those pleas sealed upon completion of community services hours.
The plea marks the end of a case that could have become a precedent-setter for the nation. If either worker had been convicted of homicide charges, it would have been the first time a caseworker was counted as culpable for the killing of a child known to the system.
That prospect excited nobody, with the exception of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
“Unnecessary removals of children from their families seem more likely if workers fear they may face criminal charges due to failure to remove,” Mike Arsham told the Chronicle in April. Arsham was then the former head of New York’s Child Welfare Organizing Project, and now serves as executive director of advocacy for ACS.
Listenbee’s First Year at OJJDP
The Chronicle will turn one year old in February, and one of our first articles broke the news that veteran Philadelphia public defender Bob Listenbee was going to be President Obama’s first appointed administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
It remains one of the most-read pieces we have published in our first year, which speaks to number of people waiting to see that office have a leader with some sense of permanence and authority.
Listenbee has received high marks thus far for his willingness to meet with juvenile justice advocates (well, as long as they come to him). But several Beltway leaders have told the Chronicle there was hope that by now, the Listenbee-led OJJDP would be publicly taking a lead position on policy issues including the role of adult courts in handling juvenile offenders, and the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.
It took forever to get a permanent person into the top spot at OJJDP, and the agency’s funding potency has been cut in half by the recent years of budget crunch. So what Listenbee’s office does on policy in the next two years will determine how this administration is remembered when it comes to juvenile justice.
Invited Award: The New Earmark?
Two things of note did occur at OJJDP during Listenbee’s first year on the job. One was a long-awaited “reorganization” of OJJDP to feature three program areas: youth development and prevention, system improvement, and state/community development.
Second was the emergence of the term “invited award” among the OJJDP funding awards for 2013, most of which were made known in late September. The term itself is hardly new; anyone dealing with hitting foundations up for money knows that some grant makers only consider grantees that are invited to apply.
But in federal funding? Obama came into office amidst clamor for an end to the art of earmarking, a practice that involves congressmen steering federal discretionary money towards grantees of their choosing.
OJJDP leadership for years saw most of it discretionary funding spoken for by earmarks before it landed in the agency’s account.
Is that same agency now doing its own selective grant making? We asked former Youth Today Publisher Bill Treanor, a human encyclopedia on federal funding for youth services, if he had ever heard of a federal program that invited one specific grantee to apply for one specific grant. He could not recall such an event.
Youth Development Loses a Pioneer
A great moment in the history of American youth work occurred in 1990 when Richard Murphy changed the mind of his boss, New York City Mayor David Dinkins, on a critical decision about public safety.
Murphy talked Dinkins out of spending $5 million on a prison barge, a floating tribute to the city’s choked corrections system, and convinced him to put the money toward his vision of establishing schools that would be open to youth and parents beyond the classroom hours.
Not coincidentally, it would be the Rheedlen Center for Children and Families, founded by Murphy in 1970, that led the Beacon movement, which quickly spread to other U.S. cities and informed the Clinton Administration’s Community Schools model.
It is not embellishment to say that Murphy is among the most influential youth worker in modern history. His ideas and his tutelage of other youth work leaders were an influence in the development of the Harlem Children’s Zone, the family preservation movement in child welfare, and black male achievement programs. Click here to read more about his history and legacy.
John Kelly is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change