Weekly Notes: ACF Funding; Michigan’s Plan for Reform; Florida’s Potential CW Drug Problem; and more

Those who have read our first subject-related blog, JJ Today, know our routine: We try to post original pieces throughout the week, and Friday is generally reserved for more quick-hit summaries: notes about funding, interesting media coverage, anything else.

***HHS’s Administration for Children and Families put out a whole bunch of funding notices in April. Here are some details on some of the larger ones:

Mentoring Children of Prisoners: $9 million for 70 awards, and most types of governmental bodies and nonprofits are eligible. Deadline: June 19.

Family Support Centers 360 and Family Support Centers 360 Special Initiatives: $2.5 million between the two of them to set up centers that serve the families of people with developmental disabilities. Letter of Intent deadline: May 27.

Street Outreach Program: Funding for organizations that serve runaway and homeless youth populations, designed to help forge relationships between youth on the street and organization staff; $5 million for 50 awards. 

***The task force created to help steer Michigan’s child welfare system on the right track came out with its initial report this week, which is rather hard to find on the website,  so just use the hotlink here. The state got itself into serious trouble by terminating the parental rights of way too many children in the 1990s and early 2000s, who then clogged the system. It recently settled a class-action lawsuit with CW litigation group Children’s Rights.

The task force’s solutions include making a heavy investment in front-end services designed to keep some families together and prevent others from ever having cases opened with the Department of Human Services (DHS).

“Michigan has a number of effective early-intervention and family-preservation programs, but state and federal policies and funding streams too often drive children into out-of-home placement,” task force co-chairs C. Patrick Babcock and Carol Goss wrote in a Detroit Free-Press column announcing the report. “The task force believes strongly that resources should be redirected to addressing problems early, before it is necessary to take the more costly and traumatic step of removing children from their homes.”

Babcock, who used to run the state’s DHS, tells CW Today he is a big fan of DHS Director Ismael Ahmed. “I have great respect for him,” Babcock said. “He is one of most competent people we’ve had” at DHS.

But Richard Wexler, who heads the National Center for Child Protection Reform, questioned how devoted Ahmed could be to family preservation given the budget he and Gov. Jennifer Granholm submitted for 2010, which level-funds or cuts lots of front-end programs.

Babcock is hoping that one of the task force’s proposals can make the difference: a tax on beer of about two to three cents a bottle. The money would be dedicated for use only for family preservation or juvenile justice prevention, Babcock said. But in financially devastated Michigan, he concedes, the group has already “caught some flack” for proposing any kind of tax.

It may come down to a state media campaign featuring beer-loving Michiganders supporting the tax. Seriously.

***It would be hard to pick a recent villain in the realm of youth work that rivals 64-year-old Judith Leekin, who was sentenced to 10 years last summer for fraud after getting lots of money to care for – and then abusing – New York City children she adopted. Now, lawyers for the children want the city to pay up for not paying better attention.

Leekin used four aliases to adopt 11 New York City children, then left them locked in rooms at her home first in New York and later Florida. She used the $1.7 million she received over the years on herself. All of the children are now between 16 and 28, and all suffer from either mental or physical disabilities.

A lawsuit brought by two Florida attorneys on behalf of 10 of the children asks for damages from the city on the grounds that the city did not properly investigate Leekin’s fitness as a mother or monitor the children’s care in her home.

The city does not appear open to settling the case, as indicated by comments in this New York Times story. But you wonder whether it would let such a tragic case go to a jury when the Administration for Children’s Services faces the same reality as every other New York agency: looming budget cuts.

***Florida will look into the suicide of Gabriel Myers, a very young child in its care. The 7-year-old took his life in a foster home nine months after being removed from his birth parents, and there is a concern that prescribed medication played a role in his suicide.

***Congrats to Karen de Sa of San Jose’s Mercury News, whose series on California’s juvenile dependency courts has won her a Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association. The series revealed that hearings on reunification lasted just minutes, and children and parents often were provided substandard legal representation. 

The Mercury News web page featuring all of de Sa’s stories and coverage of its effects leaves out one article detailing a darker part of the aftermath. Gary Proctor, who ran the legal firm that represented parents in Santa Clara family court, announced that he would get out of the dependency court business after the series chronicled a lack of preparation time and resources on the part of his staff. A month after the series ran, Proctor committed suicide.


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