National Coalition Calls Attention to Strategies to End Child Abuse Deaths
On December 14, 2010, the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths held a news conference to bring attention to the lack of national media coverage of child abuse deaths. Deaths of children from abuse and neglect outnumber deaths that receive much more national coverage, such as deaths from the H1N1 virus, Toyota automobile malfunctions, food-borne illnesses, military incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and coal mining. The coalition outlined seven initiatives to end child abuse deaths, including: developing a governmental strategy aimed at strengthening families and preventing maltreatment, additional spending to lower caseloads and increase training of caseworkers, requiring states to adopt national standards for protecting children, revising confidentiality laws, starting a public education campaign on reporting abuse, and creating a protocol for coordinating legal proceedings between child protection and law enforcement agencies. The coalition consists of the National Association of Social Workers, National Center for Child Death Review, National Children's Alliance, Every Child Matters Education Fund, and National District Attorneys Association. To view the Coalition's recommendations, click here.
On December 15, 2010, at 11 a.m. Central Time, the American Bar Association will host a free web-based training for attorneys who represent parents appealing child welfare cases. The training will provide tips for appellate attorneys and will cover how to file an appeal and discuss common occurrences that may arise during an appeal, including constitutional issues and incorrect rulings on pre-trial motions. Click here to view the announcement of the training, which includes information on how to register.
The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law's Bar-Youth Empowerment Project, directed by Andrea Khoury, would like to evaluate the frequency with which children and youth attend court hearings across the country and is asking that judges and attorneys answer questions about the practice in their jurisdictions. To participate in the survey, click here. The Center on Children and the Law started the Bar-Youth Empowerment Project to improve outcomes for youth currently in foster care, as well as young people who have aged out of care, by promoting youth participation in court cases that affect them and offering access to legal counseling and representation to youth in need of specialized legal assistance. For more information about the project, click here.
Texas Loves Children, Inc., the nonprofit organization that created and operates the Texas Lawyers for Children Online Legal Resource and Communication Center, was honored with the "Award for Excellence in Social Innovation" for TLC's Online Center by the Dallas Center for Nonprofit Management, after selection by an independent panel of community leaders. This prestigious award is given to the organization that best provides "a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient and sustainable... and demonstrates significant positive change around a specific social issue." The award ceremony was held during the "Night of Light" gala on November 19, 2010, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, with 700 people in attendance. To see a photo of TLC's Director, Barbara Elias-Perciful accepting the award from Ms. Gillian Breidenbach, click here.
We are excited to let you know that TLC has been selected as one of three finalists for the Award for Excellence in Social Innovation to be given by the Dallas Center for Nonprofit Management. The nomination process is extremely competitive, so we are thrilled to be recognized as one of the top three Dallas nonprofits in the award category for organizations that provide "a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient and sustainable... and demonstrates significant positive change around a specific social issue." The nomination is for TLC's Online Legal Resource and Communication Center. The award ceremony will be held on November 19 at the Hilton Anatole with Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow as the Master of Ceremonies.
The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC), a leading national organization supporting professionals who serve children and families affected by child maltreatment and violence, has concerns about a proposal to include parental alienation syndrome or disorder in the Amercian Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), to be published in 2013. Nineteen leading researchers, teachers, and clinicians with extensive experience in the area of family dissolution and child response to family break-up have signed a letter expressing concern as well. Kathleen Coulborn Faller, Ph.D., summarizes APSAC's concerns in a paper outlining weaknesses of the proposed diagnostic criteria. Click here to view Dr. Faller's summary.
In a recent policy paper, the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) calls for prevention of child abuse and neglect to be a greater priority in Texas. CPPP notes that, compared to other states, Texas ranks 50th in the rate of child abuse and neglect prevention coverage. In Texas, about 5 of every 1,000 children receive prevention services, while the national average is almost nine times higher, at about 44 of every 1,000 children. The prevention services which are provided by Child Protective Services are administered by the Prevention and Intervention (PEI) division. PEI's budget is only about 3 percent of the overall budget of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). In response to the legislature's request for a 10 percent budget reduction, DFPS has proposed an 84 percent reduction in the current PEI budget. CPPP urges that PEI's already small budget not be cut in the upcoming legislative session and makes specific recommendations on how PEI can prioritize where its services are provided to have maximum impact. Click here to view the paper.
On September 20, 2010, Every Child Matters Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the adoption of legislation that makes children, youth, and families a national priority, released a report on deaths from child abuse and neglect. This report, We Can Do Better: Child Abuse and Neglect Deaths in America, provides statistics on deaths from child abuse and neglect and suggests legislation to prevent abuse and lower the number of children killed. Every Child Matters is a member of the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, which includes the National Center for Child Death Review, National Children's Alliance, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Association of Social Workers. The coalition is bringing national attention to this issue and advocating a national strategy to end these preventable deaths. The first edition of the report was followed by a national summit, which generated recommendations and formation of the coalition. The coalition briefed Congressional staffers on the issue, and the General Accounting Office began a study of deaths in the child welfare system. The coalition also generated a petition requesting that Congress conduct hearings on child abuse deaths. Click here to view the report.
On September 14, 2010, the Center for Public Policy Priorities issued a report that examines the problem of undocumented children who suffer abuse and neglect in this country. Who are these children, and why is it unworkable to send them back to their country of origin? The paper offers suggestions for system improvements to allow these children to obtain legal residency and for aligning immigration and child welfare laws to protect this population. Click here to view the report.
In a paper presented at the Advanced Family Law Course in August, TLC's Director, Barbara Elias-Perciful examines various constitutional rights of children that can impact child protection cases. Among others, the rights discussed include the right to effective assistance of counsel, the right to sibling access, the right to protection and proper care when in state custody, and the right to maintain family relationships. Click here to view the paper.
The State Bar's Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect (the "Child Abuse Committee") honored R. Darin Darby as the recipient of its annual Fairy Davenport Rutland Award for Distinguished Service to Children and Families. The award is named after Ms. Rutland in recognition of her exceptional leadership as a founding member and chair of the Committee for over 20 years and her continuing dedication and many contributions to the field of child welfare. The current Chair of the Child Abuse Committee, Barbara Elias-Perciful, presented the award to Mr. Darby at the Advanced Family Law Course in August. Mr. Darby is a Felony Chief Prosecutor in the Crimes Against Children Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office, where he prosecutes sex offenders and others who injure children. He is devoted to protecting children and advocating for those children who have been victimized by physical and sexual abuse. Click here to view the 4 letters in support of Mr. Darby's nomination. Click here to see a picture of the award presentation.
At its annual meeting in August, the American Bar Association adopted several policies concerning children and parents in the justice system. Most notable is a policy calling child custody a "basic human need" in access to justice. In its new "Model Access Act," the ABA makes clear that there should be a right to legal representation of children in any proceedings initiated by government "for the purposes of child protective intervention." The ABA also clarifies that in child abuse and neglect related proceedings, the child's legal representation should extend "as long as jurisdiction continues." The ABA policies also call for full, prompt, and expansive implementation of the "older youth provisions" of the federal Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. Finally, the ABA approved the first comprehensive set of national administrative standards for courts hearing child abuse and neglect civil proceedings. These Judicial Excellence Standards were developed by a multidisciplinary committee and were previously endorsed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. Click here to view the ABA's announcement about the policies.
FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was convicted in Utah of 2 counts of rape as an accomplice for his role in the compelled marriage of 14-year-old Elissa Wall to her 19-year-old cousin and the subsequent sexual intercourse between them. He was sentenced to two consecutive prison terms of 5 years to life. Finding that the trial court's jury instructions on sexual consent were erroneous, the court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, saying, "We regret the effect our opinion today may have on the victim of the underlying crime, to whom we do not wish to cause additional pain. However, we must ensure that the laws are applied evenly and appropriately, in this case as in every case, in order to protect the constitutional principles on which our legal system is based. We must guarantee justice, not just for this defendant, but for all who may be accused of a crime and subjected to the State's power to deprive them of life, liberty, or property hereafter." Click here to read the court's opinion.
The State Bar of Texas Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect invites you to join in celebrating its 25th Anniversary at a reception featuring Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill (Ret.) as the keynote speaker. Justice O'Neill is Chair Emeritus of the Texas Supreme Court Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families. The festivities will be part of the annual Advanced Family Law Course to be held in San Antonio. The reception will immediately follow the Committee's full-day workshop and will be held from 5:00-6:30 pm in the Terrace Room of the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel, 801 Bowie, on Wednesday, August 11, 2010. Click here to view the invitation.
The Travis County Model Court for Children and Families has issued its first newsletter. This installment focuses on the successful initiative conducted in March 2010 called "Explore UT," where 40 foster youth toured the UT campus and engaged in a number of events designed to introduce them to the many ways that attending college can impact their futures. The newsletter also discusses the Family Finding and Youth Connectedness Training the court hosted in April 2010, as well as other initiatives the court has underway. TLC thanks Hon. Darlene Byrne for graciously sharing information about her model court on an ongoing basis for the benefit of others around the state who may wish to undertake similar initiatives. Click here to view the newsletter.
The Texas Supreme Court Children's Commission is offering a limited number of attorney scholarships to pay for registration for the one-day Child Abuse and Neglect Workshop at the State Bar's Advanced Family Law Conference on August 11, 2010, in San Antonio. Travel and lodging are not included in the scholarship. The workshop is being sponsored by the State Bar's Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. The deadline to apply for a scholarship is 5:00 pm on July 21. To view the requirements to be eligible and to access the application form, click here.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) launched a foster care redesign project in January 2010. Objectives include determining the location and types of services needed, how to contract for quality services, and how to pay for the services. Guiding principles include placing children in their home communities and minimizing moves that disrupt children's personal connections and educational progress. DFPS contracted with Chapin Hall of the University of Chicago to compile data on outcomes, process of care, service quality, and system capacity. The PDF Group, LLC, will provide project management, including collaboration with external stakeholders. DFPS will make recommendations to the 2011 Texas Legislature regarding structuring foster care contracts and appropriations to promote desired outcomes for children, implications of system changes, and a way to balance demand and supply for foster care services. For more information, click here.
A story on www.msnbc.com dated April 30, 2010, reported on a review of 511 abusive head trauma cases at four U.S. children's hospitals. In the months after December 2007, at the beginning of the recession, the number of cases rose by 55 percent. According to the leader of the study, Dr. Rachel P. Berger, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center brain injury specialist, a "perfect storm" of increased stress, increased poverty, and cuts in social services are to blame. Click here to view the article.
Hon. John Specia (Ret.), who is serving as Jurist in Residence with the Texas Office of Court Administration, is producing a series of letters giving current and compelling information for judges hearing CPS cases. In order to reach as many judges as possible with this information and in order to make the information available to attorneys as well, Judge Specia has graciously agreed to allow TLC to post these letters here. The first letter in this series provides information on health services for children in foster care through the STAR Health Program and information on psychotropic medication.
Click here to view it. The second letter concerns opportunities for judges and attorneys to be provided in 2010 by the Texas Supreme Court Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families.
Click here to view it. The third letter discusses the Permanency Care Assistance Program (PCA), which is how Texas plans to implement a very important aspect of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 and includes an update regarding verification under the new PCA program.
Click here to view it. These letters can also be found by topic or title in the section on Articles/Papers.
On April 13, 2010, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Travis County Model Court for Children and Families sponsored the Family Search and Connectedness Training at the Austin Children's Center. Hon. Darlene Byrne, Model Court Lead Judge, hosted the seminar. The speaker was Kevin Campbell, Director of the Seneca Center for Family Finding and Lifelong Connections and internationally known youth permanency expert. To read highlights from the seminar, click here. For more information about Campbell's training programs, click here.
Travis County is seeking a Managing Attorney for the Office of Parental Representation. The office provides representation of parents in civil matters related to child abuse and neglect. Job dutuies of the Managing Attorney include overseeing personnel, case handling, resources, and operations of the office. Interested attorneys should apply immediately through Travis County, as interviewing of candidates has already begun. To view the job posting, click here.
The State Bar's Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect is seeking nominations for its annual Fairy Davenport Rutland Award for Distinguished Service to Children and Families. The award is named after Ms. Rutland in recognition of her exceptional leadership as a founding member and chair of the Committee for over 20 years and her continuing dedication and many ongoing contributions to the field of child welfare. The award honors an attorney who has made a substantial contribution to the field of advocacy for abused and neglected children. The deadline for nominations is April 1, 2010. Click here to view the nomination form.
The National Association of Counsel for Children recently completed a report for the Nebraska Legislature, titled "Evaluation of the Guardian Ad Litem System in Nebraska." The NACC studied the state's system of child representation in abuse and neglect and delinquency cases. The report found that the guardian ad litem system in Nebraska is failing the state's children because appointees are not accountable. While children are statutorily entitled to have an attorney appointed as a guardian ad litem in every case, the report noted that the state does not have a uniform system of representation nor a uniform set of practice standards. The report also stated that guardians frequently do not inform the court of their clients' views of the case and do not receive adequate training. It also said that appointees are often a rubber stamp for the state's department of human services instead of zealous advocates for their child clients. The NACC's recommendations included establishing a statewide entity to oversee GALs, instituting mandatory practice standards, monitoring of guardians ad litem, caseload caps, and a mentoring program for new guardians ad litem. To download the report, click here.
On March 17, 2010, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court's injunction that barred a Pennsylvania district attorney from prosecuting a teenager for "sexting." The district attorney had threatened to prosecute the child for felony child pornography unless she attended a class and wrote an essay. The child's mother filed suit on her behalf, alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment violations. The court of appeals decided that the mother was likely to prevail on her claims, as the activity in which her daughter engaged was not illegal; therefore, she was entitled to an injunction against prosecution until the case was resolved. The opinion details the lessons to be taught in the class designed by the district attorney and social services agencies, noting that the lessons taught invaded the parental right to direct the moral upbringing of children. The court found that the essay required to be written under threat of prosecution was a violation of the child's right of free expression. Click here to view the court's opinion.
Hon Darlene Byrne is graciously sharing information about her Model Court in Austin so that TLC can make it available to others who may be interested in starting such a court. The annual report on her court includes the goals for last year, action steps taken to reach the goals, barriers faced, and lessons learned. It also includes the goals for 2010. TLC thanks Judge Byrne for allowing us to share her work with others statewide.
Family law expert Charles Childress, who is TLC's volunteer consulting attorney and a commentator for Sampson & Tindall's Texas Family Code Ann., will answer judges' questions on legal issues as available. To submit a question, judges may simply send an email to Barbara@TexasLawyersforChildren.org. Mr. Childress' response will be sent to Hon. Gil Jones to transmit to the Colleague Connection -- Judicial email network. Judges who are not yet registered for this email network may do so by signing in on this website's home page. Then, from "Communication Tools" on the blue menu bar above, click on "Colleague Connection Email Networks" and follow the registration instructions to "Join List" for colleagueconnectionjudicial, which is the first email network listed on the page. (TLC also has new email networks for Drug Court Judges and for Juvenile Law Judges, and judges can register for all 3 networks.) Participation in all judicial email networks is strictly limited to active Texas judges and those sitting by assignment. For registration questions, please contact TLC's Help Desk at 800-993-5TLC (5852). Click here to view Mr. Childress' resume.
Starting on March 1, 2010, attorneys can apply for scholarships to attend the 33rd Annual Conference of the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC). The National Juvenile and Family Law Conference will be conducted in Austin from October 20-23, 2010. Sponsored by the Supreme Court of Texas Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families (Children's Commission) and presented by the NACC, this multi-disciplinary conference is for attorneys who represent children, parents, and DFPS in child protective services (CPS) cases. The Children's Commission supports efforts to improve the quality of legal representation in CPS cases. To meet this goal, the Children's Commission is offering registration scholarships to qualifying Texas attorneys to attend this conference -- a great opportunity to receive CLE in this important area of law! Click here for details on how to apply.
TLC is pleased to announce the launch of a new email network, "Colleague Connection--Juvenile Law Judges," as well as a new Discussion Board and Document Vault, for judges handling juvenile delinquency cases. Participation in all three of these secure, private communication tools is strictly limited to active Texas judges. Judges can use the email network to seek colleagues' expertise on questions of interest and to discuss best practices. The Discussion Board provides a place for ongoing statewide dialogue. The Document Vault allows judges to share documents with each other. TLC thanks Hon. Gil Jones for serving as the moderator for these tools. To enroll in the email network or to access the other tools, judges who are already registered for the TLC website's services can sign in and go to "Communication Tools" on the blue menu bar above. Be sure to enroll today so you don't miss out on the messages! You are always welcome to call TLC's Help Desk at 800-993-5TLC (5852) with any questions.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities released its latest publication, The State of Texas Children: Texas KIDS COUNT Annual Data Book 2009-2010. The databook contains a county-by-county online data snapshot of Texas children's well-being. It also shows how reductions in state spending for child well-being have kept Texas among the states with the highest child poverty rates. Click here to access the databook. Also, CCCP is partnering with the U.S. Census Bureau to increase participation in the census by hard-to-reach households, especially those with young children. The CCCP census page explains why it is difficult to count young children and how other organizations and individuals can help get an accurate count. This page also has articles on why it is important that Texas get an accurate count of residents. To listen to an archived webinar on the importance of the census and how you or your organization can help, click here.