Analysis: Torn Between its Friends, Scouting Rethinks its Ban on Gays

When it comes to banning homosexuals from Scouting, the Boy Scouts of America has lately found itself torn between its best friends. On one side are the big churches that made Scouting America’s most well-known youth group and that steadfastly oppose allowing gays to join as Scouts or Scout leaders. On the other side are a growing number of other organizations that run Scout units, as well as corporations that donate to Scouting, that in recent months have openly protested and even defied that policy. In announcing this week that it might leave the question of gay membership up to the local organizations that run Scout packs and troops, the BSA is telling its church friends that it’s time to put this controversy behind them. That’s a big deal – perhaps the first time in its 103 years that the BSA has publicly gone against the big churches that made Scouting what it is today.

Suicide Forces Attention on Plight of Older Foster Youth

The suicide of a teenager shortly after aging out of foster care has ignited a public debate in Hawaii about the struggles of older foster kids, and prompted the state to take the rare step of making the youth’s case files public. The hanging death of Erwin Celes in September, six months after he emancipated from foster care, set off a phenomenon that in some ways is typical – with state child welfare officials disputing accusations of failure from youth advocates and lawmakers – but which stands out because the victim was not a young child, but a teen who was no longer in the system. The emotional public discussion, including heavy media coverage and a state legislative hearing, comes amid a national movement toward expanding services for older foster youth. The tragedy “has moved things forward, in that they’re looking at ways we can improve” foster care services, said David Louis, a former foster youth and founder of the Hawaii affiliate of Heart Gallery of America, which helps to find adoptive families for foster kids. The state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) released the partially redacted files on Thursday “so the public can see what Child Protective Services, the Family Court and our other partners did and did not do,” DHS Director Lillian Koller said in a prepared statement.

Study Says Nurse Visitation Helps Rural Teens

As the federal government pours more money into nurse home visitation programs for new mothers, a study released this week indicates two things: the new programs will need time to produce results, and the  programs might be particularly strong at convincing teen moms in rural areas to delay having a second baby. The assessment of Pennsylvania’s statewide Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program, a brand of home visitation that sends nurses to work with first-time mothers, found that the program made no difference on delayed second pregnancies from 2000 to 2003, the first three years of statewide implementation. But between 2004 and 2005, the study found, women in the program were less likely to give birth a second time within two years of having their first child than were women in a control group. Delaying a second pregnancy is significant, study co-author Dr. David M. Rubin said Wednesday. “There is such a crossroad after she has that first infant,” he said, because the longer a teen mom waits until her next pregnancy, the better the health, developmental and economic outcomes for her and her children.

It Gets Better’: A Message Resonates

When a 15-year-old Indiana boy who had been taunted because he was gay hanged himself in September, Dan Savage, a columnist for a gay publication, said he wished he could have told the youth that life would get better if he could just persevere through high school. So Savage and his partner made a video that they posted on YouTube saying just that, “It gets better,” and asking other gays to post their own videos. That simple message circulated widely in the gay community for several weeks before Fort Worth, Texas, City Council member Joel Burns, stirred by the suicide of another youth, told a council meeting his own story of harassment and his thoughts of suicide, imploring youths to realize “it gets better.”
Burns’ message went viral, with more than 2 million hits on YouTube and interviews on all the big talk shows. With those, the “It Gets Better” campaign crossed into the mainstream media, attracting new “it gets better” messages from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, performer Gloria Estefan and gay New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm, among others. It truly became part of a nationwide conversation, with video contributions from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ultimately, President Barack Obama, who said he knew what it’s  like to feel that you don’t belong.

Privatizing Child Welfare Gets Painful

The move to privatize child welfare services, which some states have pursued as a cornerstone of reform, has become painful for just about everyone involved in Nebraska. Under a plan that began in 2008, the state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been shifting some services and coordination duties to contractors, and last week it announced plans to shift more – even as many youth advocates, state workers and public officials are declaring the reform a diaster and calling for a halt.
“This reform … has resulted in turmoil for hundreds of children and families, state and private agency employees, and community-based agencies in our state,” declared Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit public interest law firm that counts child welfare among its missions. HHS remains undaunted. “Any time you go through a reform, people are nervous,” Todd Reckling, the department’s director of children and family services, said in an interview Thursday. But “this notion that the sky is falling is not true.”
The Nebraska experience bears watching for privatization fans and skeptics alike.

Young People Turn More Sour on Politics

As Election Day draws closer, America’s youngest potential voters grow more glum. Over the past year, 18- to 29-year-olds have become less likely to vote and less engaged in politics, according to a poll released today by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. “Typically, as we move closer to an election, people feel more enthusiastic,” said John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director. But this year, “as we get closer to the election, the Millennial Generation’s enthusiasm has been waning.”
That’s more bad news for Democrats and President Barack Obama, who are trying to reignite young voters to stave off expected Republican gains in next month’s elections. While the poll showed that millennials still prefer the president and a Democratic-controlled Congress, more and more of them don’t care enough to act.

CWLA to Obama: Where’s the Youth Conference?

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) felt a bit put out by the Community College Summit held at the White House early this month. Nothing against education, CWLA President Christine James-Brown said in a recent letter to President Obama. But where’s the White House Conference on Children and Youth – which the CWLA has been requesting for years? While Obama co-sponsored a bill for such a conference as a U.S. senator, the prospects in Congress and the White House are lukewarm so far. 
The first such conference was held in 1909 and six more followed, helping to focus federal policies on disadvantaged children. The last one was in 1970.

Waiting for Superman: An Education Rescue, or a Hit Job?

By Patrick Boyle    
Waiting for Superman, the 100-minute diatribe about the failures of American public education, has won praise from as high up as President Barack Obama. “This is a great American story,” the president told the child stars of Superman during a recent Oval Office visit. What’s more, leading youth organizations are trying to capitalize on the public debate provoked by the documentary, urging people to see it and steering them to ways to help disadvantaged kids. But not everyone is impressed. Valerie Strauss, a longtime education reporter and blogger at The Washington Post, calls Superman “an often misleading and sometimes dishonest look at the public education system.” The American Federation of Teachers basically calls the movie a lie.

Social Development Programs Don’t Result in Better Behavior

Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children 
National Center for Education Research
 Programs to improve young students’ social skills and character have almost no positive effect on the behavior and academic performance of elementary school students, according to this study. After looking at 6,660 third-grade students, caregivers, teachers and principals in 84 schools that implemented Social and Character Development (SACD) programs, researchers found “no differences in students’ social and emotional competence, behaviors, academic performance or perceptions of school climate” when compared with schools that did not operate those programs.
SACD programs provide a variety of activities to help teach students how to deal with their feelings, each other and adults, under the belief, the study notes, that failing to develop social competencies “can lead to problem behavior that interferes with success in school.”
The study looked at seven programs – including Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, Positive Action and Love in a Big World – as students moved from third through fifth grades. It sought to measure such things as altruistic behavior, problem behavior, feelings of safety, support for teachers and academic confidence. The control group schools engaged in various efforts to improve social competence as part of their “standard practice.”
Researchers found statistically significant positive effects on only two of 20 student outcomes that were measured for each year – student support for teachers, in the first two years. Positive Action, a company based in Twin Falls, Idaho, cites on its website “rigorous evaluations” showing improvements in such behaviors as bullying, dropping out and drug use.