Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Proposition 4 Adds Risk to Young Girls

I am writing to all of you over my concern regarding an initiative that will appear on our November ballot, Proposition 4 “Waiting Period and Parental Notification before Termination of a Minor’s Pregnancy”. This is almost a carbon copy of Proposition 85, which was defeated in the 2006 election. The initiative would require all doctors or clinics to give parents of minor girls 48-hour notice if their child is requesting an abortion.

The significant difference between this proposition and Proposition 85 is an alternative exception to notification requirement, which states that doctors can notify an adult family member instead of a parent, based on a written statement from the minor that (1) she fears abuse from that parent, and (2) her fear is based on a pattern of such abuse.

As a parent, we would all want to know if our daughter was pregnant and if she were requesting an abortion. Certainly, as a professional, well-educated adult who is the parent of a young woman, we would want them to postpone sexual activity until they are mature enough to handle it and that they have the tools to practice safe sex when they do decide to do it.

We know that 70% of young women do speak with their parents about their pregnancy already. We also know that it is impossible to legislate good communications with family members.

As advocates for disadvantaged, abused children, we should be concerned about this proposition because its passage would put this population at the greatest risk. Although the alternative exception requirement to an adult family member has been added, in the real world children who suffer abuse would risk further abuse. The children are in danger of being further abused should they tell, and/or seriously injured or killed, should they try some non-medically approved procedure to abort their pregnancy.

I would urge all of you to study the proposition carefully, keeping in mind what it would mean for the many battered and abused children of our community should it pass.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Recent Trends Indicate Poor Performance

As executive director of Hillsides, I am an outspoken supporter of the current trend in public policy to initially evaluate every family who comes to the attention of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to determine the risk factors in leaving the child/children in the home and providing services to the family to stabilize the children. Hillsides , along with a number of other agencies around the State, demonstrated that this was an effective strategy in a State pilot for Family Preservation. Families received the help they needed, and children remained safe in their own homes.

The dramatic reduction in out-of-home placement from 39,000 in 2000 to 20,000 in 2007 can be attributed to the above strategies and others that DCFS put in place. The net effect has been to reduce the number of children in group homes and to decrease the number of placements that children endure before they are to be placed in a residential treatment center.

All of this is a positive step in the right direction. However, there is a trend in our current placements that is of great concern to me. There is a rush to move children through the residential programs and into “permanent placements,” which has some disturbing and unintended outcomes.

Even though we do not have access to the children’s records once they leave Hillsides, we do learn what happens to many of them.

Over the past 12 months we had 14 DCFS children leave Hillsides. Of those 14, we know that seven returned to placement and of the remaining seven, we do not know the results of five of them; two remain at home. None of the children who left went to another group home, all went to single family homes. These statistics are not good. We know that 50% failed to remain in their placements; it could be and most likely is higher since we do not know the fate of five of the children.

Many factors could be cited for this poor performance. I am not interested in fixing blame, but on studying the individual cases to see if there are steps Hillsides, the County, and the courts can do to improve this poor outcome. I plan to take what few facts we know about each of the seven cases and see if there is something that Hillsides can do directly to influence a better outcome.

This poor performance is not peculiar to us, but it spans the whole placement community. I know for a fact that another large well-respected agency reported a similar trend. I would hope that the Department of Children and Family Services would step back and evaluate what is happening and collaborate with the providers to improve this situation.