What about Louisiana’s Children? Some of my thoughts and opinions concerning Louisiana’s Children and Child well-being; a string of notes about what we can learn from Children’s services in other states and Louisiana’s past; and ideas for Louisiana
Child welfare vocabulary: Hoteling
“Hoteling” (also called “Temporary Lodging” and sometimes spelled “Hotelling”) is the practice of housing Children in foster care in hotels, cars, or state office buildings because a Child welfare agency has too few foster homes and group homes.
States are losing federal lawsuits, legislatures are passing bills, and advocacy groups are drawing attention to a growing practice.
The unconscionable irony is that when parents are unable to provide safe housing for their Children requiring children to spend nights in cars or offices, their Children can be removed for reasons of neglect.
the short list
My short list of specific steps I believe the state of Louisiana can take to improve the well-being of our state’s Children:
- End out-of-state placements and keep Louisiana Children in Louisiana, near their families and communities.
- Establish an Office of Children’s Ombuds.
- Establish a Foster Care Ombuds
- Waive college tuition for Children who have been in foster care. (Come on, Baton Rouge! Even Mississippi designates $1 million for Children from foster care to attend postsecondary education.)
- Seek national accreditation for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. (DCFS was once accredited by the Council on Accreditation.)
- Prohibit corporal punishment in schools (esp. the forms that LA law allows: “hitting, paddling, striking, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force that causes pain or physical discomfort” [LA Rev Stat § 17:416.1] against Children in elementary school, subject to each school’s “governing authority”.)
- Increase transparency by creating a Child welfare dashboard (see the West Virginia Child Welfare Dashboard for a new example).
- Louisiana parents have a right to know about Child well-being and Child welfare in our state. Restore and maintain the Louisiana Kids Dashboard. It was once at https://www.kidsdashboard.la.gov/, then it moved to https://www.facebook.com/LouisianaKidsDashboard/. (Facebooks reports, “This content isn’t available right now. When this happens, it’s usually because the owner only shared it with a small group of people, changed who can see it or it’s been deleted.”)
- Louisiana should ensure all federal benefits designed for Children and their families are received by or retained for the intended recipient rather than use them to reimburse state services provided to Children in foster care. (see Were You Ever in Foster Care?)
Louisiana legislature recognizes the cost of it’s 10-year attack on K-12 education
According to the Southern Regional Education Board, Louisiana’s Children lagged all other southern states for high school graduation rates from 2016 to 2019. Louisiana also has the lowest 6-year graduation rates from 4-year public colleges. Outcomes like these do not occur by chance. Causes have effects.
For the generation of Louisiana’s Children who endured the state’s attack on k-12 education, the current “panic” by the legislature comes too late. Perhaps now that the Louisiana legislature has educated itself on the impact of its decade-long assault on educational funding, the opportunities for Louisiana’s Children will improve.
“We know that we have too many kids who by the second grade are not reading at grade level … and we don’t do a very good job of catching them up,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday during a press conference following the 2022 legislative session.
The literacy problem in Louisiana was clearly a point of emphasis for lawmakers this session. Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, placed the blame on massive cuts to the education budget over the years.
“Louisiana K-12 education’s budget has been reduced 40% to 60% over the past 10 years, Jackson said, and that lawmakers who voted for those cuts are now panicked about the state’s bad early education outcomes.
Education investments from this year’s budget include $17 million dedicated early childhood programs, $27 million to early childhood support services and $159 million to higher education.”
Number of Louisiana Children in foster care each month
I am unsure what to make of this chart I created this morning. It reflects the data reported by DCFS each month related to the number of Children served in foster care. DCFS monthly reports translated into a significant reduction in the number of Children served in foster care during the pandemic. Notice, though, that the reduction began before the pandemic and continues a decline that started in January 2019.
Louisiana legislature struggles with a Child well-being basic
We’re not there yet. Louisiana is still working to gather the pieces required to build a sound foundation upon which we might create a healthy environment for our Children.
This coming Thursday, our House of Representatives will take up State Rep. Stephanie Hilferty’s House Bill 649, which made it through the Education Committee without objection. HB649 will ban corporal punishment in Louisiana public schools. A similar effort by Rep. Hiflerty was unsuccessful last year, but this year who knows. Perhaps Louisiana will take another step forward.
Here’s why this is important. In Louisiana, corporal punishment is not only spanking. Currently, LA Rev Stat § 17:416.1 allows “hitting, paddling, striking, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force that causes pain or physical discomfort”. So … twist an ear, smack with a ruler, poke with a pencil eraser, if it causes “pain or physical discomfort” it is permitted until Louisiana’s legislature passes HB649.
Louisiana Child death rate: what are the odds?
With Louisiana making new forms of gambling available to its citizens, many in our state will be trying to improve their appreciation for statistics. They will be asking, “what are the odds?”
So, here’s a statistical question about something infinitely more precious than a lucky bet: What the odds a Louisiana Child will die this year?
Off the top of our heads, we want to believe the odds must be close to the proverbial “one in a million”, right? And even that seems wrong to our hearts because we do not want to accept the deaths of Children.
So, one in a million?
No. Not even 1 in 10,000.
A Louisiana Child’s odds of dying this year are roughly 1 in 2,778.
(For comparison, the national odds are 1 in 4,000. Louisiana is a hard place for Children.)
Maine Strengthens Child Welfare Ombudsman. Louisiana has nothing similar.
Maine, ranked 11 for Child well-being in 2021, further strengthens its Office of Child Welfare Ombudsman in 2022. Louisiana, ranked 48th for child well-being among the states (and holding a 32-year average rank of 49th), has no Child welfare ombuds. Louisiana Children deserve better!
Office of Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman Releases Annual Report for 2020-2021
Before you ask about a similar report from Louisiana, it does not exist. Louisiana does not have an ombudsman for Children. Colorado’s CPO report begins:
“During Fiscal Year 2020-21, the Office of Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman (CPO) has broken records, marked several successes and discovered new challenges. More than ever, the citizens of Colorado have demonstrated the value of the objective, thorough and timely services offered by this agency.”
The Office of Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman was established in 2010. Louisiana is still among the small minority of states that does not have a similar State Ombudsman for Children.
The full report of the Colorado CPO is at: CPO Annual Report 2021 Final
Visit ColoradoCPO.org to learn more.
South Carolina Faces “Outside the State” PRTF Dilemma
That a state would have insufficient intensive residential care for children is more common than one would expect. South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is desperate for access to PRTF beds for children. That state’s PRTF beds are filled with children from other states, leaving little room for children from South Carolina.
The report is in The Post and Courier‘s “Acting DJJ director proposes $20M to fund rehabilitation facility for DJJ youth“.
At the Feb. 8 hearing, (DJJ acting director, Eden) Hendrick requested $20 million in funds to build a new (20-bed) facility designed by the Department of Mental Health for youth transferred from the juvenile justice center. But DJJ would not run the facility, as individuals considered “incarcerated” cannot receive Medicaid funds and would cost the agency upwards of $1,000 per day for youth admitted to the facility.
“Our PRTFs in South Carolina are becoming full of kids from outside the state,” said (director of the Department of Mental Health, Kenneth) Rogers.
“Kids that are much easier to take care of are getting these bed spaces,” said Hendrick.
Out-of-state PRTF placements typically occur for one of four primary reasons. First, a specialized treatment may be required that is only available in another state. (It happens, but not as often as one believes.) Second, a state may have too few PRTF beds available to meet the needs of the state’s children. Third, an out-of-state PRTF bed may be cheaper per day than an in-state bed. Fourth, no one challenging a child’s out-of-state placement to ensure she receives care closer to home and her family when it is possible.
Louisiana Not Offering College Support to Children in Foster Care?
Mississippi is preparing to join the vast majority of states that offer post-secondary financial support to children aging out of foster care. “Mississippi considers college aid for foster youth” reports that
“by the end of 2021, 38 states offered post-secondary financial support for young people who had been in foster care, through scholarships grants or tuition waivers. Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina were among the states with no support.”
Among southern states, Texas, Georgia and Florida offer tuition waivers; Arkansas, Alabama and North Carolina offer scholarships; and Tennessee and Virginia provide grants to young adults who were formerly in foster care.
Two paths to a better future – corporate welfare or child well-being?
State legislatures gamble when they throw money at corporations hoping one will be the “next big thing” capable of reinvigorating a state’s economy. Research suggests better futures are not created by gifting corporations, but by investing in children and families. Today’s article from The Hill makes the case against corporate welfare.
Here’s how states can end corporate welfare
BY JAMES M. HOHMAN
“Research shows that such handouts (“corporate welfare” and “business subsidies”) accomplish little to nothing. They can harm economic growth, since politicians aren’t well-suited to figure out which companies will succeed or fail. They typically do not create the promised number of jobs, since the economy is constantly shifting and politicians can’t see into the future. Most importantly, corporate welfare is unnecessary, since up to 98 percent of companies would have moved to or stayed in a certain state without the taxpayers’ unwitting help.”
Why is “Quality” last?
“Managed Care is a health care delivery system organized to manage cost, utilization, and quality.“
What is Child well-being?
“Child well-being” is a term is used broadly to describe the relative condition of children. The term may be used in reference to a single child’s condition, the conditions of children in a region for comparative purposes (Louisiana’s child well-being is among the worst in the nation), or even for entire countries.
When comparing child well-being among nations, UNICEF’s definition from 2007 is often used: “The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies in which they are born”.
Good child well-being is present when children survive and thrive; learn; are protected from violence and exploitation; live in safe and clean environments; and have equitable chances in life. If children are faring badly on these elements, then they are experiencing unacceptable and dangerous levels of poor child well-being.
An Ombudsman for Children? Not in Louisiana.
Louisiana lacks a critical component to help ensure child well-being that most states possess. Louisiana does not have a Children’s Ombudsman Office to impartially address grievances or provide our elected officials with the information required to make wise, informed decisions on behalf of our children and families.
A public sector ombudsmen as “an independent, impartial public official with authority and responsibility to receive, investigate or informally address complaints about government actions, and, when appropriate, make findings and recommendations, and publish reports.”
A Children’s Ombudsman Office is not a new concept. For years, the National Conference of State Legislatures has offered guidance to states that are interested in doing right by their children, and has published a very helpful introduction to Children’s Ombudsman Offices.
The information is at:
Children Among “Priorities for Louisiana” – Really or Rhetorically?
In my opinion, if Children were truly among the “priorities for Louisiana”, then our state government would not rely upon fickle surpluses to fund early Childhood education. A basic budgeting principle holds that priorities are funded first – because they are priorities.
By definition, priorities do not wait for surpluses. If we’re lucky, a surplus is what’s left over after the priorities have been covered.
Louisiana’s budget and funding priorities often disprove our state’s rhetoric. This persistent gap between rhetoric and reality is not hidden. To see it, one need only read through news reports from Louisiana, the state where Child well-being holds a 31-year average of 49th in the nation. See (Louisiana: 30 years of kids count headlines).
Matt Doyle’s Jan 21, 2021 report on LouisianaRadioNetwork.com in State faces hundreds of millions in budget cuts next fiscal year addresses predictions about next year’s state budget. This sentence jumps off the screen when I read it:
“We had a surplus and we had money that we were going to be able to invest in priorities for Louisiana like early childhood education,” said Dardenne.
(Clearly, this statement is only a sound bite and it says nothing about Mr. Dardenne’s personal commitment to the well-being of Louisiana’s Children. From a phone conversation during his run for governor, I know he, like all of us in Louisiana, desires good for our Children. Despite the desires we hold in common and in contrast to the imagery on the Louisiana flag, our state budget has not yet prioritized the needs of Children.)
Making early Childhood education a priority could change our state’s future in a positive way. Saying that early Childhood education is a priority is fine rhetoric, but rearing Children in a state that actually prioritized early Childhood education would be a great reality yielding longterm benefits for Louisiana Children and families and businesses and culture and … well, you get the idea.
Child Welfare and Distress During and After COVID-19
The pandemic spread of COVID-19 does not bode well for Children. Evidence indicates the disease itself is not as medically dangerous to Children as it is to those who are in an identified “higher risk” category which includes the elderly and individuals with pre-existing health conditions. But have no doubt, every Child and the conditions of all children are indirectly at risk.
These articles from across the nation explain the factors and dynamics which are at work against Children:
COVID-19 Child Abuse Reporting
What COVID-19 means for America’s child welfare system by Morgan Welch and Ron Haskins, The Brookings Institution
Child abuse reports down in Texas since COVID-19, a trend advocates fear by Hannah Dellinger, Houston Chronicle
Why child welfare experts fear a spike of abuse during COVID-19 by Laura Santhanam, PBS
Drop in calls to child abuse hotlines raises flags by Neil Schoenherr-WUSTL, Futurity
Why surge in foster care placement will follow COVID-19 pandemic by Gracie Bonds Staples, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Children in Jeopardy: The Covid-19 lockdown will greatly strain the U.S. foster-care system by Naomi Schaefer Riley, City Journal
COVID-19 pandemic creates a shortage of foster parents by Hannah Knowles, WWMT Newschannel 3
U.S. Alcohol Sales Increase 55 Percent in One Week Amid Coronavirus Pandemic by Jade Bremner, Newsweek
U.S. alcohol sales increase amid coronavirus pandemic by Nexstar Media Wire