News Briefs for February 2004

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Guardians Must Visit Kids

In what may be the first requirement of its kind in the nation, the Michigan Supreme Court has put teeth into a 1998 state law that requires attorneys representing children in child protective proceedings to actually meet with those children.

The court last month instituted rules that require the lawyers to visit the children in their homes or the facilities where they’ve been placed before each court hearing.

Because post-trial reviews of cases involving children who are abused or neglected occur every three months, court-appointed lawyer-guardians ad litem (L-GALs) will have to see their child-clients four times a year.

Several L-GALs say the new rules make little sense, because attorneys are not trained to assess homes, and younger children cannot communicate their wishes to their lawyers. “These new rules are outrageous, disgusting, terribly stupid ... any negative adjective you can come up with that applies,” said longtime L-GAL Daniel Bagdade of suburban Oakland County, outside Detroit.

Some L-GALs handle 100 or more cases, averaging about 2.5 children per case. An L-GAL with 100 cases would have to visit each of the 250 children four times a year – a requirement many of them say is impossible to meet. The problem is especially difficult with groups of siblings who may be spread out among three or four foster homes.

L-GALs in Michigan are usually paid for court appearances and receive no extra compensation for time or expenses for visiting clients.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Maura Corrigan said the requirement is needed to ensure that abused and neglected children receive the best legal representation possible. She and other court officials have blamed a “lack of involvement” by some L-GALs for delaying permanency decisions for kids.

“Even if the child cannot communicate his or her wishes to the lawyer-guardian ad litem, the visitation affords the lawyer-guardian ad litem an opportunity to observe the child’s condition, demeanor or behavior,” Corrigan said.

Marvin Ventrell of the Denver-based National Association of Counsel for Children said Michigan is “a bit progressive on this issue and appropriately so, in our view.”

Ventrell said both his organization, composed of attorneys who practice in juvenile and family courts, and the American Bar Association advocate frequent contact between L-GALs and their child-clients. Ventrell said he knows of no other state that requires L-GALs to visit clients in their homes.

“I know it can be difficult to visit clients in their homes, but we believe it’s absolutely necessary,” Ventrell said. “If you don’t view them in context, you don’t really know.’”

The new rules require L-GALs to sign affidavits attesting that they have visited their clients, in order to get paid, and require judges and court referees to ask the L-GALs if they fulfilled their obligation to visit the children.

Housing Help for Grandparents Raising Kids

With more and more children being raised by their grandparents, Congress has created a new federal program to develop housing designed specifically for those families.

The law provides funding for national demonstration projects, overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to develop “intergenerational housing” for grandparents raising children.

The provisions first appeared in the Legacy Act of 2003, proposed in the Senate last February. After being introduced in the House last summer by Reps. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.), the three major provisions were included in the larger American Dream Downpayment bill (ADD), which was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in December.

Capuano says the housing projects will replicate Boston’s Grandfamilies House, an apartment building with 26 family-size units with safety and convenience features for children and senior citizens. Services offered at the building include legal aid, and preschool and after-school programs run by the YWCA.

About 24 replications of that program are in some phase of development, says Generations United Executive Director Donna Butts. She expects many of them to apply for the $10 million in new grants from HUD. Only four projects are expected to receive awards.

“Housing is one of the areas significant to most of these families,” says Butts, whose organization conceived of and proposed the Legacy Act after working on an Oscar-nominated documentary, “Legacy,” which followed an intergenerational family in Chicago.

Butts says children frequently move in with their grandparents spontaneously, which makes housing a problem. “Many [grandparents] have downsized living spaces for retirement; many live in public housing,” she says. “Then they are suddenly taking in children and don’t have adequate room.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 2 million children are being raised by their grandparents or other relatives. A survey by the Brookdale Foundation in New York found that the No. 1 reason for grandparents raising their grandchildren is substance abuse by the parents. Other common reasons include death, incarceration or military deployment of the parents.

Heritage Foundation fellow Ronald Utt, who calls ADD “fiscally irresponsible,” says he supports the concept of intergenerational housing but worries about the transitory nature of grandparent guardian situations.

“If a court decides to give a kid back [to a parent], what then?” asks Utt. “What do you do with the grandparent, evict them?” Utt suggests that a voucher system – where grandparents caring for children would get special priority for housing until their role changes – would be more cost-effective and would maximize the number of families that could get help.

Contact: Generations United (202) 289-3979,; HUD (202) 708-0685,

Anti-Drug Ad Execs Charged with Fraud

As the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) prepared to release new anti-drug television ads during this year’s Super Bowl, two members of the firm it hired to make the ads were being charged with conspiring to inflate bills to the White House agency.

The charges, filed by federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York, may be the final blow for the relationship between ONDCP and the New York City marketing firm Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

ONDCP signed Ogilvy to a $1 billion contract in 1999 to handle its anti-drug advertising campaign – the largest advertising campaign of any government agency.

But in 2000 the U.S. General Accounting Office investigated $7 million of the firm’s charges and found that a lot of them didn’t hold up. Ogilvy agreed to pay back $1.8 million in 2002, saying it had been unprepared for the complexities of federal record-keeping and accounting requirements.

To the astonishment of many observers, ONDCP awarded the same firm a new contract later that year. Agency spokesman Tom Riley says that contract ends in September.

The criminal charges, filed against former Ogilvy finance director Thomas Early and former partner Shona Seifert, allege that they directed subordinates to revise time sheets to boost the number of hours the firm billed to ONDCP. Early resigned after the charges were filed. Both pleaded not guilty.

Riley says ONDCP Director John Walters has not decided whether to bar Ogilvy from bidding on the agency’s next advertising contract. Contact: (800) 666-3332,


Church Sex Abuse:
Most of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have instituted the sex abuse prevention measures they agreed to in response to the church’s sex abuse scandal, according to an auditor’s report released last month. The report to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said 171 of the 191 dioceses had carried out the policies stipulated in 2002, but that most were just beginning to adequately confront the problem. The report is under “latest news” at

Tech Education: Federal funding for state and local educational technology programs is rising to $700 million for fiscal 2004, up from $696 million last year, according to a recent report from Input, a market research firm. The money comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Technology State Grants program, whose goal is to make every student technology literate by the end of eighth grade.

Commando Raid:
Parents in Goose Creek, S.C., are suing police for terrorizing their children in an especially aggressive search for drugs at a high school. The officers, aided by a military officer, drew guns and used drug-sniffing dogs to search 107 students. No drugs were found and no arrests were made. George McCrackin, the principal who invited police into the school for the raid, has resigned.

Scanning for Sex Offenders:
The Royal Palm Middle School in Phoenix became what is believed to be the first school in the nation to install equipment to identify sex offenders who attempt to enter the campus. Cameras scan images of visitors’ faces and run them through databases of offenders. If a match is found, police are alerted.

Girls’ Boot Camp: Facing a rising population of female juvenile offenders, Mississippi is considering changes in its boot camp-style program for girls. A pilot program to identify underlying causes of delinquency in girls will help guide new state standards for dealing with female youthful offenders.

House Pages Expelled:
Seven teens have been expelled from their coveted positions as pages in the U.S. House of Representatives for abusing household cleaners. Officials in the House Page School discovered that the youths were inhaling aerosol dust cleaners, some of which contain chemicals that can produce a brief high, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Under the page program, high school juniors work on the floor of the House while taking part in a high school curriculum.