May 17, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Takes an Important Step for Children's Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today that life without parole for juveniles is, in non-homicide cases, cruel and unusual punishment. This is a significant step forward in juvenile justice that has been lauded by the Juvenile Law Center and other advocacy groups.

Thousands of cases nationwide are affected by this new decision.

But is life without parole an appropriate sentence in homicide cases for juveniles? In many cases, advocates argue, it deteriorates the intention of the juvenile justice system: rehabilitation.  Although this case is a step toward restoring the focus of the juvenile justice system, there is still a significant road to travel.

The majority of youth convicted of major crimes show a history of abuse prior to their involvement with the system, and a shocking study in January 2010 showed that 12% of youth in custody were being sexually abused.

It is urgent that the juvenile justice system be reformed to reemphasize rehabilitation instead of punishment and to provide services to children who are acting out from abuse rather than punishment that perpetuates that abuse.

March 24, 2010

White House Conference on Children and Youth

You care about children's rights.

You hate that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is signed by every nation but the United States and Somalia.

You want the White House to care as much about children's lives, souls, education, and safety as they do about their weight. 

Well, then...let's get the concerns of real child advocates in the field in front of the President.

Support the CWLA's effort to have a White House Conference on Children and Youth.  The last conference was held in 1971. Isn't it time that the future of children became a priority to this nation, instead of the future of foreign governments?

February 16, 2010

The Fat Kid and The War on Childhood Obesity

Michele Obama's War on Childhood Obesity has received a great deal of praise from many who think it's time we took back the health of American's youth.  The blame for this epidemic of chubby children has been placed on parents, poverty, fast food, the media, genetics and even toxins.

In the middle of all this debate and well-meaning problem solving are a whole lot of obese children who face tremendous obstacles in just trying to get their education, live their lives and grow up in a society that on the one hand pushes high-caloric indulgences and on the other hand condemns those whose bodies conform to what one would expect from consuming such indulgences.

What is missing from First Lady Obama's plan, which focuses on healthy eating, providing better choices for food in schools, increasing access to healthy affordable foods, and movement, is compassion for the special emotional needs of children dealing with weight issues. What's also missing is the crucial element of the voices of the children themselves, and an acknowledgement of their suffering.

Without a fundamental shift in the way childhood obesity is viewed in society, and without the emotional and mental health issues created by it being addressed, this initiative is doomed to failure because it further isolates children suffering with a problem that is not merely physical.  These children, their bodies now "attacked" as a "crisis" are bound to suffer even greater losses to self esteem and self-acceptance, leading to increased physical health issues and decreased ability to overcome their obesity and the challenges that it creates.

These children, already struggling every day to get by, deserve our compassion and our love, not just yet another program that will encourage others to marginalize them further.

Michele Obama, if you want to help a fat kid, give them a place to go where they can feel safe.  Tell them that they are beautiful the way that they are, and that the changes you propose are about their insides not their outsides.  Tell them that they aren't going to be taken away from their parents because they were "allowed to get fat."  Tell them that you are working to end discrimination against them.

Don't just hand them an apple and tell them to go move.

January 26, 2010

In the Best Interest of Haiti's Children

When the earthquake hit, someone I know who has a very loving heart came to me and said their first reaction was that they wanted to open their home to an orphaned Haitian child.

I reacted less favorably than they thought I would.  Immediately, my mind went to my own stepsons and how they would react to a major tragedy such as an earthquake of even half the devastation of what happened in Haiti.  I imagined then that some well-meaning person took them out of the United States, put them on a plane to a country where the language and customs were completely different from what they had grown up with and dropped them into a new family.  That family might even be a different race, a different religion, and with different values all together from what they have learned growing up. I imagined the pain of adjustment to such a new experience, so soon after a major catastrophe.

Recently, Save the Children called for a halt to new adoptions because, as spokesperson Carolyn Miles said ""The vast majority of the children currently on their own still have family members alive who will be desperate to be reunited with them and will be able to care for them with the right support..."

Adoption in Haiti has already been fraught with problems. Some orphanages and organizations are calling for a relaxing of Visa and Immigration requirements to allow orphaned Haitian children to be adopted out more quickly. However, in the absence of a clear and structured plan and the ability to be certain that children from Haiti are not being placed out of the country when there are as yet unidentified relatives available to take them, hasty action could have lifelong negative consequences for these children.

That being said, from the pulpit this Sunday my own Pastor spoke of the struggles of a family member who had been trying to adopt an orphaned Haitian child now for several years. The child had already been selected and cleared for adoption, but paperwork delays held up the uniting of the new family for years.  The earthquake brought attention to this issue, and many children caught in a paperwork malestorm were released recently for adoption.  This is a different situation than taking children orphaned recently by the earthquake (or possibly not even orphaned) and shipping them to foreign lands.

We must not assume that we, Americans or Europeans in particular, are a better choice for raising these children than other Haitians.  It is a dangerous assumption.  Although there are children who will need the sheltering arms of foreign families, the first effort should be in providing support for Haitians willing to adopt these children, particularly if they are members of their own family.  The youngest of Haitian orphans may fare better at changing cultures.  However, for children over three or four, the culture shock after already suffering through "the thing" as some Haitians are referring to the earthquake might be too much for fragile young psyches.

A plan for Haitian orphans should include the following:

1. Caution, prudence and care must be taken to match as many Haitian children with their own family members or families in their own communities as possible.

2. Because this process will take time, foreign governments and organizations should make their second wave of aid, after the immediate medical and nourishment needs of the earthquake victims, be aimed at providing support to Haitian orphanages. 

3.  When children have been identified as definitively orphaned, foreign adoptions should only be granted once the child has had an opportunity to go through age-specific counseling to help them with the cultural change.  The primary gatekeeper for allowing the adoption to proceed should be a mental health professional.

4.  Once the children are emotionally prepared for adoption, then it is in their interest to remove the impediments of immigration policies and adoption procedures that needlessly prolong the child's stay in the orphanage.

5. Adoption subsidies should be provided for families in Haiti willing to accept orphaned children so that there is an incentive to keep the children in their known culture.

These steps will take funding, and the commitment of the Haitian government and the United Nations.  However, Haiti's beautiful children are well worth it. Rebuilding must begin with the littlest of Haiti's citizens.

January 4, 2010

2010 Resolutions for Child Advocacy in YOUR Family and Community

The year changes. The ball drops. We tip back a glass of champagne and scribble down some resolutions, some of which we may keep, some of which we may not.

But what resolutions can you make to advocate for your children or the children in your family and community?

1. If you have children, have a will. Find an attorney who can make an air-tight will in your state (if you are in New Jersey, I do them!) that gives guardianship of your children to someone YOU would choose if something should happen to you. Don't let your state's Child Protective Services make the decision of who your child should live with if they lost you.

2. If you do not have children, but wish you did...consider foster parenting. There are many, many children out there so desperately in need of a home where they will be loved and cared for, even if its only for a short time.

3. If you have children in your family, get to know them. So many adult survivors of child abuse will describe how they spent countless hours around family members who did not know they were being hurt. Get to know the children in your family, and let them know that if they have troubles they can come to you.

4. Become a mentor. Studies show that children at risk are greatly benefited by mentors. If there isn't a Big Brothers/Big Sisters or other mentorship program in your area, start one!

5. If you have a child with special needs, get serious! Get involved with the school, the IEP process...if they aren't listening to what your child needs, see an attorney who specializes in education law. Get to know the law and make sure that your child is getting all the services they need and deserve.

6. If you have a child in the public school system, get involved! Vote in local elections, join the P.T.A. (or start one), get to know the teachers that your children are dealing with. Teachers are almost always happy to have parents involved who are concerned about their children and want to know what is going on. Don't worry about bothering the teacher, they want to talk to you about how to help your child succeed!

7. Involved with a church, mosque or synagogue? Make sure your place of worship has information, and even maybe speakers available about child advocacy in your community, or at the least about how to recognize and report child abuse. Likewise, educate members of civic groups you belong to.

8. Educate yourself. Know the signs of child abuse. Know what to do if you see them.

Personal Note: I haven't updated this blog in awhile because I have been busy opening my law firm! The Law Office of Lynda L. Hinkle does family law, education, wills and municipal law. Hopefully, now that we are up and running I will be returning to a regular blogging schedule.