Infants and Toddlers in the Child Welfare System

The report from, Zero to Three and ChildTrends, Changing the Course for Infants and Toddlers: A Survey of State Child Welfare Policies and Initiatives by Elizabeth Jordan, Jaclyn Szrom, Jamie Colvard, Hope Cooper and Kerry DeVooght, examines child welfare policies for the very young and differences in practices used with this population and children of other ages. In 2011, children under 1 year old were most often the victim of substantiated reports of maltreatment, followed by those ages 1 to 3 years.   Forty-seven states responded to the 2012-13 survey with information on how they treat cases involving abused and neglected infants and toddlers. Some of the findings from the report:

  • A lack of services or case schedule (expedited hearing, review or meeting schedules) crafted with the special needs and developmental changes of 0-to-3 year olds in mind. Some states (9) did allow more frequent visitation between parents and their very young children in foster care. The majority of states (42) have policies that involve the birth parent(s) in discussion of their children’s health and healthcare decisions while in state care.
  • Although their is interest in improving practices, overall, policies and training around child maltreatment are not driven by research on the impact of trauma on the still-developing brain of a child less than 3 years old. Neurological formation is critical from birth to age 3, but only 6 percent (3) of states reported mandatory training for all child welfare staff grounded in research on “promising practices” for infants and toddlers.  Of those responding to the survey, 25 states require such training for front-line caseworkers and 15 states offer it as voluntary.
  • The most commonly provided service was parenting education (offered by 39 states) or therapy provided to the young child (28 states). Seventeen states do not collect data on the services received by infants or toddlers who have been abused.

In the wake of the Sandusky case, Pennsylvania created the Task Force on Child Protection to review child abuse legislation and procedure. The final report released in 2012, available at their website as a PDF, contains several recommendations including,

  • The use and fiscal support of evidence-based child abuse prevention programs
  • Increasing the training requirements for caseworkers
  • Expediting communication and information sharing through use of electronic communication
  • An overhaul of the Child Protective Services Law, revision of definitions of key terms and expanding the list of mandatory reporters (with penalties for non-reporting)
  • Creating a statewide database containing information from every report concerning possible neglect or abuse of a child, including those determined as unfounded, while eliminating the expungement process

Recent updates on the Pennsylvania Legislature’s actions around the recommendations are summarized in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette article Seven bills pass through Senate panel to strengthen Pa. child abuse laws by Kate Giammarise and at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association website.

 

 

The Complex and Lasting Impact of Community Violence

For over a decade The Urban Institute has tracked the long term impacts for families relocated by the Chicago Housing Authority to make way for their removal of public housing complexes throughout the city. The relocated residents report better housing and neighborhood quality since the move.  For youth however, the improved living environment does not appear to have had a transformative effect on their lives.

According to the brief, Chronic Violence: Beyond the Developments, follow-up data from 2011 indicate that children in the new housing (voucher-enabled private rentals or refurbished public housing) were not attending higher quality schools and were still living in neighborhoods with nearly half of the residents below the poverty line. Parental reports of negative behavior and delinquent activity were similar to the baseline data of youth in the public housing complexes.  In addition, academic performance remained a concern, with approximately 33 percent of the teenagers not in the appropriate grade for their age and about 66 percent unengaged in school or work activities.

Authors Chantal Hailey and Megan Gallagher discuss the presence and patterns of neighborhood violence as a continuing factor risk factor in the lives of these families, even after relocation, specifically the impact it has upon youth in the form of continued exposure to trauma, a nomadic lifestyle, and avoidance or isolation.  The researchers at The Urban Institute recommend intensive case management services for the relocated families in Chicago, with the hope that such intervention would improve future outcomes.

The impact of neighborhood violence on youth can be devastating, both in perceived and actual threats of physical harm, the psychological toll of anxiety, and the impact of traumatic events on a child’s development. It should be noted that research identified similar problems for youth in “rough” neighborhoods from a sample that included families above the poverty line.  Addressing the long-lasting impacts of community violence in a meaningful manner is challenging as both the context of the violence witnessed and gender differences in coping techniques may lessen responsiveness to standardized interventions “proven” in another city.  The mixed perception of the outside “experts” (school officials, teachers, social workers, counselors, police, etc.) by community members may also serve as a obstacle in forming a partnership to reduce youth and adult violence.  There is not a single policy nor intervention that will be able to  neutralize or remove every risk factor, but based on the results of various initiatives across the country,  a combination of behavioral interventions and police strategies may prove effective going forward.

Study Highlights Long Recovery for Disaster Survivors

In difficult times, conventional wisdom assures us that we will endure and perhaps even  improve– becoming wiser, or more spiritual, or more grounded – from the hardships faced. The adage, that which does not kill us will make us stronger,  is  almost considered fact, and indeed there is some empiric evidence behind that phrase.  However, are some traumas simply too much to bear, having a long-term, even lasting, impact upon survivors and their families?

A study of Hurricane Katrina survivors, specifically low-income mothers, found that they continued to experience mental health problems several years post-hurricane.  Four years after the natural disaster one-third of the sample were still suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms and 30 percent experiencing  psychological distress, both above pre-storm levels. The researchers found that experiencing stressors such as lack of edible food or clean water, home damage and injury due to Hurricane Katrina corresponded with risk of long term post-traumatic stress.

Although the authors warn that the study is not generalizable to the larger population, this data provides valuable insight into the true duration of the human impact of a natural disaster the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina.

 

 

Quality Care Builds Resilience in Children

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) brief, I Am Safe and Secure – Promoting Resilience in Young Children by Peter J. Pizzolongo and Amy Hunter discusses the critical role of quality early childhood care and education in fostering resiliency in children. Resilient children, those who positively adapt to trauma or high levels of environmental stress at a young age, are better able to cope with difficult experiences or additional traumas later in life. As this trait is so closely linked to healthy development, early childhood education programs (Headstart, preschool), parenting classes and child care centers should strive to incorporate resiliency-building practices into service offerings and interactions with children and families.

Additional information about children and trauma, as well as how to talk to children about coping with emergencies and/or disasters, is available at the NAEYC website.