Juvenile Detention Is Asinine Exception to Social Distancing

coronavirus: Double exposure of young boy with sad eyes and abstract virus strain model over back of head

KDdesignphoto/Shutterstock

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Right now I’m almost sure that there is a 14- or 15-year-old crying from inside a jail cell at the Cook County [Ill.] Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC) — home of the world’s first juvenile court house established in 1899. There are many reasons this young person could be crying — they can’t have their mother come and visit as she has every week for the last few months. Maybe the young person was sure they were going to court but is told the courts that have the ability to free them is closed for 30 days. Or maybe, just maybe, the young person is sick from the contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

On any given day at the CCJTDC there are boys and girls who will be herded into the CCJTDC through the intake process and thereafter placed inside a “housing pod” — a space less than the size of a full basketball court with 12 to 15 youth locked inside. There are 30 of these housing pods inside the CCJTDC — a four-story concrete and iron building on Chicago’s Westside. 

Paul Pearson (headshot), smiling man with short dark hair in dark jacket, plaid shirt and striped tie

Paul Pearson

Dr. Anne Spaulding, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Emory University, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “There’s nothing to make us think that a COVID-19 cannot spread through a crowded juvenile facility as quickly as it could spread through a cruise ship.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the virus can easily spread in dense places — in a packed subway car, for example, or at a rally or concert. 

There is now mounting concern that COVID-19 will find its way inside our correctional facilities. This   claim is not hyperbole, according to an article in The Hill: “An employee at New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility tested positive for the coronavirus … with two other’s tests pending.” A staffer at Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state has tested positive

And finally there is Dr. Robert Greifinger, “who has spent 25 years working on health care issues inside the nation’s prisons and jails.” Social distancing “isn’t so simple behind bars … crowding issues, ventilation issues, security issues where people have to be checked and monitored fairly frequently.” 

In response to the mounting evidence that detention facilities are the next breeding ground for the pandemic, the chief justice of the CCJTDC postponed most cases through April 15.

Survived so much already

These preventative measures, however well intended, will continue to put lives at risk — young lives — many of whom have made it through drug and gun wars, physical and sexual abuse, and mental and emotional abuses of every kind and survived. What no one with authority is willing to concede at this point is that social distancing needs to apply to youth detention centers right now. 

COVID-19 is like no other issue the courts or detention centers have seen before. Thousands of young people are at risk as they sit inside a cesspool detention facility waiting to be infected. Here we have no other choice and must call for the lifesaving measure on behalf of our detained youth.  

It is asinine that law and order has taken precedence over common sense. With the introduction of COVID-19 into the global lexicon we are also become increasingly aware of the term “social distancing.” Extraordinary precautions are being taken by our government leadership and agencies to ensure that as many people practice social distancing as possible. 

The business community has also stepped in to help combat COVID-19 concerns by facilitating remote work options for employees and closing brick and mortar locations until further notice. Even our schools, administrators, faculty and staff at every level of education across the nation are not exempt from the impacts of social distancing due to COVID-19. 

In our lifetimes most of us have never experienced anything similar to the health precautions taken to curtail the spread of COVID-19. This is of particular interest to those of us who advocate and lend voice for detained youth who are experiencing forms of marginalization and systemic trauma

There is an interest divergence occurring here where property takes priority over social distancing that can curtail the spread of COVID-19 and impact the wellbeing of us all. (Juvenile detention is “not considered appropriate for status offenders and youth” who commit technical probation violations. But almost 4,000 youth are held in Cook County detention centers for these same low-level offenses.) Thus the approximately 200 boys and girls are essentially waiting for COVID-19 to find its way into the CCJTDC. Maybe some young person arrested for stealing or fighting will bring in COVID-19? 

Maybe some correctional officer will bring COVID-19 into the space? Maybe even a judge will usher in COVID-19? I can’t be sure which of these options will take hold. What I am absolutely sure of is that COVID-19 will enter the CCJTDC. So let’s find practical solutions to make sure our kids aren’t there when it arrives. 

Paul Pearson is a Doctor of Education student at DePaul University, where he also received a Masters of Jurisprudence degree in public interest law with a focus on juvenile jurisprudence. He is also the founder of a volunteer organization, DuSable Community Coalition, focused on reducing recidivism as we find alternatives to youth detainment throughout the United States.

The post Juvenile Detention Is Asinine Exception to Social Distancing appeared first on Youth Today.


Juvenile Detention Is Asinine Exception to Social Distancing

coronavirus: Double exposure of young boy with sad eyes and abstract virus strain model over back of head

KDdesignphoto/Shutterstock

.

Right now I’m almost sure that there is a 14- or 15-year-old crying from inside a jail cell at the Cook County [Ill.] Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (CCJTDC) — home of the world’s first juvenile court house established in 1899. There are many reasons this young person could be crying — they can’t have their mother come and visit as she has every week for the last few months. Maybe the young person was sure they were going to court but is told the courts that have the ability to free them is closed for 30 days. Or maybe, just maybe, the young person is sick from the contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

On any given day at the CCJTDC there are boys and girls who will be herded into the CCJTDC through the intake process and thereafter placed inside a “housing pod” — a space less than the size of a full basketball court with 12 to 15 youth locked inside. There are 30 of these housing pods inside the CCJTDC — a four-story concrete and iron building on Chicago’s Westside. 

Paul Pearson (headshot), smiling man with short dark hair in dark jacket, plaid shirt and striped tie

Paul Pearson

Dr. Anne Spaulding, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Emory University, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “There’s nothing to make us think that a COVID-19 cannot spread through a crowded juvenile facility as quickly as it could spread through a cruise ship.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the virus can easily spread in dense places — in a packed subway car, for example, or at a rally or concert. 

There is now mounting concern that COVID-19 will find its way inside our correctional facilities. This   claim is not hyperbole, according to an article in The Hill: “An employee at New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility tested positive for the coronavirus … with two other’s tests pending.” A staffer at Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state has tested positive

And finally there is Dr. Robert Greifinger, “who has spent 25 years working on health care issues inside the nation’s prisons and jails.” Social distancing “isn’t so simple behind bars … crowding issues, ventilation issues, security issues where people have to be checked and monitored fairly frequently.” 

In response to the mounting evidence that detention facilities are the next breeding ground for the pandemic, the chief justice of the CCJTDC postponed most cases through April 15.

Survived so much already

These preventative measures, however well intended, will continue to put lives at risk — young lives — many of whom have made it through drug and gun wars, physical and sexual abuse, and mental and emotional abuses of every kind and survived. What no one with authority is willing to concede at this point is that social distancing needs to apply to youth detention centers right now. 

COVID-19 is like no other issue the courts or detention centers have seen before. Thousands of young people are at risk as they sit inside a cesspool detention facility waiting to be infected. Here we have no other choice and must call for the lifesaving measure on behalf of our detained youth.  

It is asinine that law and order has taken precedence over common sense. With the introduction of COVID-19 into the global lexicon we are also become increasingly aware of the term “social distancing.” Extraordinary precautions are being taken by our government leadership and agencies to ensure that as many people practice social distancing as possible. 

The business community has also stepped in to help combat COVID-19 concerns by facilitating remote work options for employees and closing brick and mortar locations until further notice. Even our schools, administrators, faculty and staff at every level of education across the nation are not exempt from the impacts of social distancing due to COVID-19. 

In our lifetimes most of us have never experienced anything similar to the health precautions taken to curtail the spread of COVID-19. This is of particular interest to those of us who advocate and lend voice for detained youth who are experiencing forms of marginalization and systemic trauma

There is an interest divergence occurring here where property takes priority over social distancing that can curtail the spread of COVID-19 and impact the wellbeing of us all. (Juvenile detention is “not considered appropriate for status offenders and youth” who commit technical probation violations. But almost 4,000 youth are held in Cook County detention centers for these same low-level offenses.) Thus the approximately 200 boys and girls are essentially waiting for COVID-19 to find its way into the CCJTDC. Maybe some young person arrested for stealing or fighting will bring in COVID-19? 

Maybe some correctional officer will bring COVID-19 into the space? Maybe even a judge will usher in COVID-19? I can’t be sure which of these options will take hold. What I am absolutely sure of is that COVID-19 will enter the CCJTDC. So let’s find practical solutions to make sure our kids aren’t there when it arrives. 

Paul Pearson is a Doctor of Education student at DePaul University, where he also received a Masters of Jurisprudence degree in public interest law with a focus on juvenile jurisprudence. He is also the founder of a volunteer organization, DuSable Community Coalition, focused on reducing recidivism as we find alternatives to youth detainment throughout the United States.

The post Juvenile Detention Is Asinine Exception to Social Distancing appeared first on Youth Today.


National Youth Gang Survey Program Grant

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Youth Gangs, Youth Crime, Juvenile Justice, Youth Welfare, Safety
Deadline:
May 25, 2020

“This solicitation seeks applications for funding to design, pilot test, and implement a national survey of law enforcement agencies in order to illuminate the magnitude of youth gang activity and law enforcement responses to it. Study objectives will include: 1) developing a sampling plan and collecting data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. law enforcement agencies; 2) producing accurate and reliable national estimates of gang presence, gang membership, gang-related crime in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the United States; 3) acquiring detailed data about the characteristics of these crimes; 4) analyzing how the prevalence and characteristics of such crimes, as well as gang presence and membership have changed over time; and 5) obtaining information about law enforcement strategies for gang prevention, intervention and suppression.”

Funder: National Institute of Justice
Eligibility:
Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), nonprofits that do not have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), for profit organizations other than small businesses, public and state controlled institutions of higher education, city or township governments, county governments, state governments, special district governments, Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized), others.
Amount:
Up to $1,000,000
Contact:
Link.


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National Youth Gang Survey Program Grant

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Youth Gangs, Youth Crime, Juvenile Justice, Youth Welfare, Safety
Deadline:
May 25, 2020

“This solicitation seeks applications for funding to design, pilot test, and implement a national survey of law enforcement agencies in order to illuminate the magnitude of youth gang activity and law enforcement responses to it. Study objectives will include: 1) developing a sampling plan and collecting data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. law enforcement agencies; 2) producing accurate and reliable national estimates of gang presence, gang membership, gang-related crime in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the United States; 3) acquiring detailed data about the characteristics of these crimes; 4) analyzing how the prevalence and characteristics of such crimes, as well as gang presence and membership have changed over time; and 5) obtaining information about law enforcement strategies for gang prevention, intervention and suppression.”

Funder: National Institute of Justice
Eligibility:
Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), nonprofits that do not have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), for profit organizations other than small businesses, public and state controlled institutions of higher education, city or township governments, county governments, state governments, special district governments, Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized), others.
Amount:
Up to $1,000,000
Contact:
Link.


>>> CLICK HERE to see all of Youth Today’s GRANT LISTINGS

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NM Children and Family Health Program Grants

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Child/Youth Health, Child/Youth Welfare, Nutrition, Physical Activity, Safety
Deadline:
May 31, 2020

“Healthy Kids, Healthy Families (HKHF) is a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico grant initiative designed to improve the health and wellness of children and their families across the state of New Mexico. HKHF is part of an ongoing commitment to invest and partner with nonprofit organizations that offer sustainable, measurable programs in the following areas:

  • Nutrition
  • Physical Activity
  • Disease Prevention and Management
  • Supporting Safe Environments.”

Funder: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico
Eligibility:
“The organization must hold a 501 (c)(3) tax status. The grant must primarily target individuals in New Mexico. The program must be measurable and demonstrate how the goals will be met as defined in the grant proposal.”
Amount:
Unspecified
Contact:
Link.


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WY Youth Conservation Education and Job Training Program Grants

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Job/Career Training, Environmental Education, Civic Engagement, Youth Development
Deadline:
May 18, 2020

“This program’s projects provide employment for participants and opportunities to learn about and gain work experience in public lands and natural resources management while promoting long term interest in public lands stewardship and the BLM. The BLM Youth Program assists the BLM with diversifying the workforce while exposing participants to the complex cultural and natural resource issues faced by National Conservation Lands managers.”

Funder: Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Eligibility:
Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), nonprofits that do not have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized), Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized).
Amount:
$8,000 – $40,000
Contact:
Link.


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GA Women and Girls Life Improvement Program Grant

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Women/Girls Welfare, Women/Girls Development, Education, Health, Gender Issues/Equality
Deadline: May 31, 2020

“Our goal is to make a positive impact on the lives of women and their children. The program/project for which you seek funding will improve the lives of women and/or children in one or more of the following areas: health, education, economic independence, social well-being, human rights. The grant will be used for special projects or capital improvement that can be sustained by the organization after the grant allocation. The grant may consider a limited amount to be used for salary, overhead, or other operating expenses for a new program. Preference will be given to programs and projects that can be fully funded by the $100,000 grant and are not reliant on other sources of funding to be successful.”

Funder: Ribbons of Hope
Eligibility: “A Georgia-based 501(c)(3) agency or organization. Agency or organization will have at least three years of financial records and an annual operating budget of at least $500,000 (in-kind donations can be included).”
Amount: $100,000
Contact: Link. 


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Homeless Youth National Communication System Program Grant

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Homeless/Runaway Youth, Youth Services, Youth Welfare, Safety
Deadline:
May 13, 2020

“The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) will award one cooperative agreement on a competitive basis for a period of three years to operate the Runaway and Homeless Youth National Communication System (NCS) Program.

The NCS Program is a dedicated toll-free, U.S. national communication system that provides information, referral services, crisis intervention, prevention approaches, and communication services to vulnerable, at-risk, and runaway and homeless youth and their families or legal guardians. The purpose of the NCS is to a) prevent youth from running away and becoming homeless, and b) link youth with a family member or guardian, and/or an available resource that can provide and/or assist the youth in acquiring needed services.

To fulfill the objectives of the legislation, the NCS must provide, among other services, a neutral and confidential channel of communication that is available on a 24-hours per day, seven days per week, basis throughout the United States so that youth contemplating running away and runaway and homeless youth may re-establish contact with their parents or legal guardians if possible. The NCS Program is also expected to work closely and collaboratively with FYSB to fulfill its mission as the federally funded communication system for runaway and homeless youth.”

Funder: The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB)
Eligibility:
“Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), Nonprofits that do not have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), public and state controlled institutions of higher education, City or township governments, Public housing authorities/Indian housing authorities, County governments, State governments, Independent school districts, Special district governments, Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments), Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized), others. In addition, public (state and local) and private non-profit entities, and coordinated networks of such entities, are eligible to apply for a Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grant unless they are part of the juvenile justice system.”
Amount:
$1,000,000 – $1,600,000
Contact:
Link.


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Homeless Youth National Communication System Program Grant

OUR GRANT OPPORTUNITIES: Youth Today’s grant listings are carefully curated for our subscribers working in youth-related industries. Subscribers will find local, state, regional and national grant opportunities.

THIS GRANT’S FOCUS: Homeless/Runaway Youth, Youth Services, Youth Welfare, Safety
Deadline:
May 13, 2020

“The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) will award one cooperative agreement on a competitive basis for a period of three years to operate the Runaway and Homeless Youth National Communication System (NCS) Program.

The NCS Program is a dedicated toll-free, U.S. national communication system that provides information, referral services, crisis intervention, prevention approaches, and communication services to vulnerable, at-risk, and runaway and homeless youth and their families or legal guardians. The purpose of the NCS is to a) prevent youth from running away and becoming homeless, and b) link youth with a family member or guardian, and/or an available resource that can provide and/or assist the youth in acquiring needed services.

To fulfill the objectives of the legislation, the NCS must provide, among other services, a neutral and confidential channel of communication that is available on a 24-hours per day, seven days per week, basis throughout the United States so that youth contemplating running away and runaway and homeless youth may re-establish contact with their parents or legal guardians if possible. The NCS Program is also expected to work closely and collaboratively with FYSB to fulfill its mission as the federally funded communication system for runaway and homeless youth.”

Funder: The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB)
Eligibility:
“Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), Nonprofits that do not have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS (other than institutions of higher education), public and state controlled institutions of higher education, City or township governments, Public housing authorities/Indian housing authorities, County governments, State governments, Independent school districts, Special district governments, Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments), Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized), others. In addition, public (state and local) and private non-profit entities, and coordinated networks of such entities, are eligible to apply for a Runaway and Homeless Youth Program grant unless they are part of the juvenile justice system.”
Amount:
$1,000,000 – $1,600,000
Contact:
Link.


>>> CLICK HERE to see all of Youth Today’s GRANT LISTINGS

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Child Welfare’s Response to COVID-19 Is Sickening

foster care: A young baby having a fit on the ground crying.

LittleDogKorat/Shutterstock

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All over America, there are people who can’t stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some always knew their jobs carried risks: Doctors and nurses, police and firefighters, and, yes, child protective services caseworkers. Others were, in effect, drafted into the fight: Letter carriers, pharmacists, truck drivers and all those people stocking shelves and running cash registers at grocery stores. And then there are the people who simply volunteer — like those delivering meals to the elderly.

But while so many others are stepping up, some foster parents in New Mexico and Kentucky are whining because they can’t step away. They’re complaining because — at least for now — they are not allowed to cut their foster children off from all in-person visits with their own families.

Worse, these states may soon be an exception. Other states and localities have, in fact, cut off in-person visits between foster children and their families — and even their siblings in separate foster homes. Many court systems, while continuing to hold hearings to rubber-stamp taking children away from their parents, have shut down hearings to send them home again — so foster children will not only be further isolated from their own families, the isolation will be prolonged.

And when former foster youth Sixto Cancel organized a webinar for foster youth so they could hear how agencies would respond to their needs, almost all the questions came from public and private child welfare agencies — and none of their questions was about the needs of the kids. They were all about how many requirements the agencies could be excused from meeting — and, of course, how they will be paid. There was so much naked self-interest on display I’m surprised the whole event wasn’t busted by the vice squad.

No questioner from the agencies expressed concern about canceled visits or delays in reunification. Instead, Jerry Milner, who runs the Children’s Bureau in the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and was there to answer the questions, had to raise those concerns himself.

I’m sure there are individual foster parents who are extending themselves heroically to keep foster children in touch with their families. There are caseworkers putting themselves at risk both to investigate actual child abuse and to help families stay together when their poverty is confused with neglect. As always, the bad news gets the attention.

But the predominant institutional response of child welfare systems reveals greed, fear and selfishness. All sorts of other businesses are donating to help fight COVID-19 — including breweries converting their production lines to make hand sanitizer and already hard-hit restaurants donating meals. They say the same thing: We help now; we’ll figure out the money later. But not child welfare. 

In short, child welfare’s response to COVID-19 is sickening. Yes, there are serious and real concerns about spreading the virus. But with some guts and imagination, child welfare can cope without doing further harm to vulnerable children. Their failure to be creative doesn’t just do emotional harm to foster children — it risks increasing the spread of COVID-19 itself.

READ BETWEEN THE LINES

All this is simply one more manifestation of how child welfare really views families: essentially subhuman. The message is clear: Why should we sacrifice ourselves for those rotten, no-good parents? After all, look what they did to their kids.

You can hear it in the words of those New Mexico foster parents, who were showcased in a story from Searchlight New Mexico:

“I’ve cleaned my house, I’ve canceled all activities, I’ve washed my hands 6,000 times,” said Jill Michel, a mother of seven who fosters two children for CYFD. “… I can’t control where the kids will go for the visits and what they’ll be exposed to.

“They are putting my family at risk and it makes me very uncomfortable. If you’re going to make us take these kids out in the wor[l]d, then you take them for 14 days.”

Kentucky foster parents have made similar comments.

There are two key problems with this:

First, most of the time, children are taken away not because they were beaten and tortured but because of neglect — which often means the family was simply poor

Even when the parents have serious and real problems, children almost always need them. One study found that even infants born with cocaine in their systems fared better left with birth mothers able to care for them than when placed in foster care. Other studies have found that visits are, almost literally, a lifeline for children. This has been so well known for so long that decades ago, an American Bar Association report actually recommended requiring daily visits from a time a child is first removed in so-called “emergencies” until the first court hearing.

So keeping children in contact, in person, with their parents isn’t a matter of what parents want — it’s a matter of what children need.

Also, foster parents of New Mexico: We don’t know what those children are being exposed to in your homes either.

Cutting off all contact with family is not necessary to control the virus. No one is saying that all those college students whose universities have closed shouldn’t be allowed to go home. Foster parents love to say they treat foster children “like our own.” If those New Mexico foster parents had children coming home from college would they make them quarantine themselves elsewhere for 14 days first? All over the world families are reuniting — because they need each other.

Here’s the guidance Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama in Birmingham offered to The New York Times when asked “Can family come to visit?”

“‘Certainly, sick family should not visit,’ said Dr. Marrazzo. ‘If you have vulnerable people in your family, or who are very old, then limit in-person contact.’

“But if everyone in the family is young and healthy, then some careful interaction in small groups is probably OK. ‘The smaller the gathering, the healthier the people are to start with, the lower the risk of the situation is going to be,’ she said.”

To their credit, child welfare officials in New Mexico understand this. They’re continuing in-person visits unless there’s some indication that someone has been exposed to COVID-19. Said the head of New Mexico’s child welfare agency, Brian Blalock: “I can’t imagine being a child trying to get back to your parents and then having this happen. It would make a terrifying situation even more terrifying.”

And there are ways to reduce the risk. How about moving visits outdoors? Why not hold visits in parks? Or how about all those big empty athletic fields at schools that are now closed? And I’ll bet there are some foster parents who have great big backyards of their own suitable for visits. New Mexico is, in fact, moving visits outdoors — but apparently even that isn’t enough for the foster parents. 

And no, video is not enough. For one thing, toddlers don’t always understand videoconferencing, as a mother in New York City explained to NPR:

“She basically hangs up the phone. So it’s like, very emotional for me to try to do FaceTime when she’s not really paying attention. I’m usually, like, you know, feeding her, singing to her, playing with her, we’re bonding really good, and it’s like it snatched it away from me, this whole virus and being away from her now.”

And, of course, video visits take no account of the digital divide: Poor people are most likely to lose children to foster care and least likely to be able to afford the necessary technology.

COURTROOM DOUBLE STANDARDS

Even as visits are being cut back, foster care is being prolonged.

In several states juvenile courts are shutting down — except for taking away children, of course. Those hearings are considered “emergencies.” But if a child has to languish in foster care for weeks or months longer because the hearing on reunification is postponed indefinitely, somehow that’s not an emergency.

In fact, when foster care is prolonged it may well prolong emotional torment for children who never needed to be taken in the first place. It also increases the risk of abuse in foster care — multiple studies have found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of foster homes, and the record of group homes and institutions is even worse. As is discussed below, it may even increase the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

Again, there are better answers.

  • The most obvious is to hold hearings by phone or video. In many cases this is harder than it should be because some courts have not kept up with technology. Indeed, Texas — not generally known as a child welfare leader — claims to be making an all-out effort.
  • When an in-person hearing is the only option, get smart about scheduling. Instead of demanding that the parties for every case show up all at once first thing in the morning, schedule each hearing for a specific time. If museums can master timed entry tickets, it shouldn’t be that hard for courts to do it.
  • Agencies should be reviewing cases in which a child was scheduled to return home in a few months — and seeing if those children can be returned right now. Then courts should allow judges to approve the return over the phone. After all, judges routinely issue orders to take away children that way.
  • Agencies should be taking another look at the children they’ve institutionalized in group homes and “residential treatment” — which doesn’t work even in the best of times, and see if they can be kept safely in their own homes with wraparound services.

DOES CHILD REMOVAL SPREAD COVID-19?

As with everything else child welfare does wrong, the double standards for courtroom closures are justified in the name of safety. In fact, they may increase the risk to children — not only the risks associated with foster care in general, but the risk of catching COVID-19.

Consider what removing a child entails:

  • The child may well physically resist removal — that means the ultimate in close contact with the strangers who have come to the door to take her or him away.
  • ­The child is forced into the car of caseworkers or police officers who may have transported any number of others.
  • The child waits at an office while a foster home is found.
  • If no foster home is found, the child is put back into a car and transported to the worst option of all — one of those godawful parking place shelters, where they will be thrown in with scores of other children and youth.
  • And every time the shift changes at the shelters — or at other institutions — the children are exposed to a new set of strangers.
  • When a foster home is found, it’s another car ride to another set of strangers.
  • And to top it off, if courts are continuing to hold hearings to take children away, but refusing to hold hearings to send them home, all those foster homes and shelters are likely to get more crowded.

Again there is a better answer: Think a lot harder about whether that child really is in such immediate danger that the only option is taking her or him away from home. 

LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES

You can bet child welfare agencies are going to make children suffer long after the pandemic is over. Just watch: Thanks to prolonged needless foster care due to court closings, more children will be in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months. That triggers a requirement in the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act for agencies to move to terminate parental rights. Some state laws have even shorter timelines.

In fact, there are plenty of exceptions in the law. “ASFA made me do it” is the child welfare equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.” But you can be sure agencies will rush to invoke ASFA whenever they simply like the foster parents better.

And some foster parents will do it themselves: Having pushed to cut off in-person visits and with courts delaying reunification, anyone care to bet we’ll see more efforts by foster parents to play the “bonding card”? In other words, they’ll say: Well, maybe the children never should have been taken in the first place, but they’ve been with us for a long time and they’ve had almost no contact with their parents — so we should be allowed to keep them.

YES, IT IS EASY FOR ME TO SAY

To those who are on the frontlines who read this and think: Sure, that’s easy for him to say, I have just one response: You’re absolutely right.

Yes, my job is much easier than yours. It’s also much easier than the jobs of my letter carrier, the guy who delivers my groceries and all those other people who never asked to be on the frontlines during a pandemic. And it’s certainly easier than the jobs of all those volunteers who are running toward the problem even as so many in child welfare want to run away.

They’re all doing their jobs. Those foster parents in New Mexico and Kentucky, those people who keep the courts running and those who run child welfare agencies need to do their jobs as well.

Richard Wexler is executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

The post Child Welfare’s Response to COVID-19 Is Sickening appeared first on Youth Today.


Child Welfare’s Response to COVID-19 Is Sickening

foster care: A young baby having a fit on the ground crying.

LittleDogKorat/Shutterstock

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All over America, there are people who can’t stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some always knew their jobs carried risks: Doctors and nurses, police and firefighters, and, yes, child protective services caseworkers. Others were, in effect, drafted into the fight: Letter carriers, pharmacists, truck drivers and all those people stocking shelves and running cash registers at grocery stores. And then there are the people who simply volunteer — like those delivering meals to the elderly.

But while so many others are stepping up, some foster parents in New Mexico and Kentucky are whining because they can’t step away. They’re complaining because — at least for now — they are not allowed to cut their foster children off from all in-person visits with their own families.

Worse, these states may soon be an exception. Other states and localities have, in fact, cut off in-person visits between foster children and their families — and even their siblings in separate foster homes. Many court systems, while continuing to hold hearings to rubber-stamp taking children away from their parents, have shut down hearings to send them home again — so foster children will not only be further isolated from their own families, the isolation will be prolonged.

And when former foster youth Sixto Cancel organized a webinar for foster youth so they could hear how agencies would respond to their needs, almost all the questions came from public and private child welfare agencies — and none of their questions was about the needs of the kids. They were all about how many requirements the agencies could be excused from meeting — and, of course, how they will be paid. There was so much naked self-interest on display I’m surprised the whole event wasn’t busted by the vice squad.

No questioner from the agencies expressed concern about canceled visits or delays in reunification. Instead, Jerry Milner, who runs the Children’s Bureau in the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and was there to answer the questions, had to raise those concerns himself.

I’m sure there are individual foster parents who are extending themselves heroically to keep foster children in touch with their families. There are caseworkers putting themselves at risk both to investigate actual child abuse and to help families stay together when their poverty is confused with neglect. As always, the bad news gets the attention.

But the predominant institutional response of child welfare systems reveals greed, fear and selfishness. All sorts of other businesses are donating to help fight COVID-19 — including breweries converting their production lines to make hand sanitizer and already hard-hit restaurants donating meals. They say the same thing: We help now; we’ll figure out the money later. But not child welfare. 

In short, child welfare’s response to COVID-19 is sickening. Yes, there are serious and real concerns about spreading the virus. But with some guts and imagination, child welfare can cope without doing further harm to vulnerable children. Their failure to be creative doesn’t just do emotional harm to foster children — it risks increasing the spread of COVID-19 itself.

READ BETWEEN THE LINES

All this is simply one more manifestation of how child welfare really views families: essentially subhuman. The message is clear: Why should we sacrifice ourselves for those rotten, no-good parents? After all, look what they did to their kids.

You can hear it in the words of those New Mexico foster parents, who were showcased in a story from Searchlight New Mexico:

“I’ve cleaned my house, I’ve canceled all activities, I’ve washed my hands 6,000 times,” said Jill Michel, a mother of seven who fosters two children for CYFD. “… I can’t control where the kids will go for the visits and what they’ll be exposed to.

“They are putting my family at risk and it makes me very uncomfortable. If you’re going to make us take these kids out in the wor[l]d, then you take them for 14 days.”

Kentucky foster parents have made similar comments.

There are two key problems with this:

First, most of the time, children are taken away not because they were beaten and tortured but because of neglect — which often means the family was simply poor

Even when the parents have serious and real problems, children almost always need them. One study found that even infants born with cocaine in their systems fared better left with birth mothers able to care for them than when placed in foster care. Other studies have found that visits are, almost literally, a lifeline for children. This has been so well known for so long that decades ago, an American Bar Association report actually recommended requiring daily visits from a time a child is first removed in so-called “emergencies” until the first court hearing.

So keeping children in contact, in person, with their parents isn’t a matter of what parents want — it’s a matter of what children need.

Also, foster parents of New Mexico: We don’t know what those children are being exposed to in your homes either.

Cutting off all contact with family is not necessary to control the virus. No one is saying that all those college students whose universities have closed shouldn’t be allowed to go home. Foster parents love to say they treat foster children “like our own.” If those New Mexico foster parents had children coming home from college would they make them quarantine themselves elsewhere for 14 days first? All over the world families are reuniting — because they need each other.

Here’s the guidance Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama in Birmingham offered to The New York Times when asked “Can family come to visit?”

“‘Certainly, sick family should not visit,’ said Dr. Marrazzo. ‘If you have vulnerable people in your family, or who are very old, then limit in-person contact.’

“But if everyone in the family is young and healthy, then some careful interaction in small groups is probably OK. ‘The smaller the gathering, the healthier the people are to start with, the lower the risk of the situation is going to be,’ she said.”

To their credit, child welfare officials in New Mexico understand this. They’re continuing in-person visits unless there’s some indication that someone has been exposed to COVID-19. Said the head of New Mexico’s child welfare agency, Brian Blalock: “I can’t imagine being a child trying to get back to your parents and then having this happen. It would make a terrifying situation even more terrifying.”

And there are ways to reduce the risk. How about moving visits outdoors? Why not hold visits in parks? Or how about all those big empty athletic fields at schools that are now closed? And I’ll bet there are some foster parents who have great big backyards of their own suitable for visits. New Mexico is, in fact, moving visits outdoors — but apparently even that isn’t enough for the foster parents. 

And no, video is not enough. For one thing, toddlers don’t always understand videoconferencing, as a mother in New York City explained to NPR:

“She basically hangs up the phone. So it’s like, very emotional for me to try to do FaceTime when she’s not really paying attention. I’m usually, like, you know, feeding her, singing to her, playing with her, we’re bonding really good, and it’s like it snatched it away from me, this whole virus and being away from her now.”

And, of course, video visits take no account of the digital divide: Poor people are most likely to lose children to foster care and least likely to be able to afford the necessary technology.

COURTROOM DOUBLE STANDARDS

Even as visits are being cut back, foster care is being prolonged.

In several states juvenile courts are shutting down — except for taking away children, of course. Those hearings are considered “emergencies.” But if a child has to languish in foster care for weeks or months longer because the hearing on reunification is postponed indefinitely, somehow that’s not an emergency.

In fact, when foster care is prolonged it may well prolong emotional torment for children who never needed to be taken in the first place. It also increases the risk of abuse in foster care — multiple studies have found abuse in one-quarter to one-third of foster homes, and the record of group homes and institutions is even worse. As is discussed below, it may even increase the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

Again, there are better answers.

  • The most obvious is to hold hearings by phone or video. In many cases this is harder than it should be because some courts have not kept up with technology. Indeed, Texas — not generally known as a child welfare leader — claims to be making an all-out effort.
  • When an in-person hearing is the only option, get smart about scheduling. Instead of demanding that the parties for every case show up all at once first thing in the morning, schedule each hearing for a specific time. If museums can master timed entry tickets, it shouldn’t be that hard for courts to do it.
  • Agencies should be reviewing cases in which a child was scheduled to return home in a few months — and seeing if those children can be returned right now. Then courts should allow judges to approve the return over the phone. After all, judges routinely issue orders to take away children that way.
  • Agencies should be taking another look at the children they’ve institutionalized in group homes and “residential treatment” — which doesn’t work even in the best of times, and see if they can be kept safely in their own homes with wraparound services.

DOES CHILD REMOVAL SPREAD COVID-19?

As with everything else child welfare does wrong, the double standards for courtroom closures are justified in the name of safety. In fact, they may increase the risk to children — not only the risks associated with foster care in general, but the risk of catching COVID-19.

Consider what removing a child entails:

  • The child may well physically resist removal — that means the ultimate in close contact with the strangers who have come to the door to take her or him away.
  • ­The child is forced into the car of caseworkers or police officers who may have transported any number of others.
  • The child waits at an office while a foster home is found.
  • If no foster home is found, the child is put back into a car and transported to the worst option of all — one of those godawful parking place shelters, where they will be thrown in with scores of other children and youth.
  • And every time the shift changes at the shelters — or at other institutions — the children are exposed to a new set of strangers.
  • When a foster home is found, it’s another car ride to another set of strangers.
  • And to top it off, if courts are continuing to hold hearings to take children away, but refusing to hold hearings to send them home, all those foster homes and shelters are likely to get more crowded.

Again there is a better answer: Think a lot harder about whether that child really is in such immediate danger that the only option is taking her or him away from home. 

LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES

You can bet child welfare agencies are going to make children suffer long after the pandemic is over. Just watch: Thanks to prolonged needless foster care due to court closings, more children will be in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months. That triggers a requirement in the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act for agencies to move to terminate parental rights. Some state laws have even shorter timelines.

In fact, there are plenty of exceptions in the law. “ASFA made me do it” is the child welfare equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.” But you can be sure agencies will rush to invoke ASFA whenever they simply like the foster parents better.

And some foster parents will do it themselves: Having pushed to cut off in-person visits and with courts delaying reunification, anyone care to bet we’ll see more efforts by foster parents to play the “bonding card”? In other words, they’ll say: Well, maybe the children never should have been taken in the first place, but they’ve been with us for a long time and they’ve had almost no contact with their parents — so we should be allowed to keep them.

YES, IT IS EASY FOR ME TO SAY

To those who are on the frontlines who read this and think: Sure, that’s easy for him to say, I have just one response: You’re absolutely right.

Yes, my job is much easier than yours. It’s also much easier than the jobs of my letter carrier, the guy who delivers my groceries and all those other people who never asked to be on the frontlines during a pandemic. And it’s certainly easier than the jobs of all those volunteers who are running toward the problem even as so many in child welfare want to run away.

They’re all doing their jobs. Those foster parents in New Mexico and Kentucky, those people who keep the courts running and those who run child welfare agencies need to do their jobs as well.

Richard Wexler is executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

The post Child Welfare’s Response to COVID-19 Is Sickening appeared first on Youth Today.


A Guide to Community Strategies for Improving Emerging Adults’ Safety and Well-Being

See Full Report

Author(s): Urban Institute

Published: March 18, 2020

Report Intro/Brief:
“Research suggests emerging adulthood (defined roughly as ages 18 to 26) is a distinct and critical stage for paving the way to healthy and stable adulthood. A lack of support and opportunity during this stage can increase people’s risk of justice system involvement and carry lifelong consequences for them and their communities. Developing targeted policies and services that promote healthy development among young people, bolster their resiliency, and help them reach key milestones can improve individual outcomes and support public safety. Practitioners and policymakers are increasingly acknowledging this fact and designing justice responses specifically for emerging adults.

However, much less attention has been paid to building and sustaining community-based continua of care and opportunity to support young adults and help them avoid the harmful and lasting consequences of justice involvement. Justice practitioners and service providers can reduce emerging adults’ justice system contact by supporting prevention efforts, offering diversion opportunities alongside social services, and reducing the long-term negative impacts of justice involvement. In turn, these strategies can advance public safety, mitigate barriers created by structural inequality, and build alliances with community partners.

This guide synthesizes research about emerging adults’ unique needs and highlights strategies for supporting them. We conducted a high-level literature review, identified examples of policies and programs US communities are using to support young adults, and interviewed six emerging adults (box 1 offers additional methodological details). This guide’s sections highlight three focus areas for practitioners looking to improve outcomes for emerging adults: (1) relationships and support networks, (2) health and well-being, and (3) stability and financial security. Each section includes a research overview, examples of strategies and programs, feedback from emerging adults, and guiding questions for practitioners regarding ways to leverage community supports for emerging adults.”


>>> CLICK HERE to see all of Youth Today’s REPORT LIBRARY

The post A Guide to Community Strategies for Improving Emerging Adults’ Safety and Well-Being appeared first on Youth Today.


Child Mind Institute Names Mimi Corcoran as New Executive Director

Mimi Corcoran newsmaker headshot; woman in red shirt looking at camera

Child Mind Institute

Mimi Corcoran

The Child Mind Institute recently named Mimi Corcoran as its new executive director.

Corcoran brings more than 25 years of children-focused philanthropic executive experience with her to the national children’s mental health and learning disorder nonprofit. She arrives at Child Mind Institute after having some time off from those executive positions for the past year as an independent consultant in nonprofit strategy and, fittingly, executive recruitment.

Corcoran’s most recent organizational position was as president and CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities for about two-and-a-half years. Prior to that, she served for a year as vice president of talent development at New Visions for Public Schools and for a year as president and CEO of ANDRUS.

Corcoran’s career first picked up in 1996, after she earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and an MPA with a concentration in finance from New York University. She joined the Open Society Foundations as director of special projects, overseeing international philanthropy work with a $450 million budget. Her outstanding work in this position got her noticed by others in the nonprofit sector.

In 2000, Beginning with Children Foundation hired Corcoran as its executive director. She would lead this Brooklyn nonprofit for more than seven years, growing its capacity and expanding quality educational opportunities to thousands of disadvantaged New York youth.

Corcoran would subsequently take a two-year hiatus from leading an organization; using her expertise to help other nonprofits by becoming a partner of the Hudson Heights Partners, a consulting company that aided nonprofits in development of growth strategies, fundraising and management.

Open Society Foundations then wanted her back in 2009. Corcoran returned to the organization to be director of its Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation, where she would spend another four years. It was after this that she joined ANDRUS as its president and CEO.

“Mimi is a tremendously effective leader, and we are excited by the knowledge and passion that she is going to bring to advancing our mission,” said Child Mind Institute Founding President and Medical Director Harold S. Koplewicz, MD in a press release about the appointment. “This is an exciting time of growth and opportunity for the Child Mind Institute, and Mimi is the ideal person to help lead us forward.”

Mimi Corcoran assumes the responsibilities as executive director of the Child Mind Institute immediately.

The post Child Mind Institute Names Mimi Corcoran as New Executive Director appeared first on Youth Today.


Child Mind Institute Names Mimi Corcoran as New Executive Director

Mimi Corcoran newsmaker headshot; woman in red shirt looking at camera

Child Mind Institute

Mimi Corcoran

The Child Mind Institute recently named Mimi Corcoran as its new executive director.

Corcoran brings more than 25 years of children-focused philanthropic executive experience with her to the national children’s mental health and learning disorder nonprofit. She arrives at Child Mind Institute after having some time off from those executive positions for the past year as an independent consultant in nonprofit strategy and, fittingly, executive recruitment.

Corcoran’s most recent organizational position was as president and CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities for about two-and-a-half years. Prior to that, she served for a year as vice president of talent development at New Visions for Public Schools and for a year as president and CEO of ANDRUS.

Corcoran’s career first picked up in 1996, after she earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and an MPA with a concentration in finance from New York University. She joined the Open Society Foundations as director of special projects, overseeing international philanthropy work with a $450 million budget. Her outstanding work in this position got her noticed by others in the nonprofit sector.

In 2000, Beginning with Children Foundation hired Corcoran as its executive director. She would lead this Brooklyn nonprofit for more than seven years, growing its capacity and expanding quality educational opportunities to thousands of disadvantaged New York youth.

Corcoran would subsequently take a two-year hiatus from leading an organization; using her expertise to help other nonprofits by becoming a partner of the Hudson Heights Partners, a consulting company that aided nonprofits in development of growth strategies, fundraising and management.

Open Society Foundations then wanted her back in 2009. Corcoran returned to the organization to be director of its Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation, where she would spend another four years. It was after this that she joined ANDRUS as its president and CEO.

“Mimi is a tremendously effective leader, and we are excited by the knowledge and passion that she is going to bring to advancing our mission,” said Child Mind Institute Founding President and Medical Director Harold S. Koplewicz, MD in a press release about the appointment. “This is an exciting time of growth and opportunity for the Child Mind Institute, and Mimi is the ideal person to help lead us forward.”

Mimi Corcoran assumes the responsibilities as executive director of the Child Mind Institute immediately.

The post Child Mind Institute Names Mimi Corcoran as New Executive Director appeared first on Youth Today.


Nutrition Education, Multigenerational Cooking Lessons Target Childhood Obesity

cooking: 2 women in white cooking uniforms work with food at steel counter

Photos by Stell Simonton

Chef Ashley Keyes and high school intern Olivia Richardson make garlic bread at the nonprofit C.H.O.I.C.E.S., which combats child obesity through cooking and nutrition education.

A tomato sauce bubbles on the stove. The aroma of baking chicken fills the air.  There’s a hum of voices, a burst of laughter and a rhythmic pounding as volunteer Athena Manning flattens pieces of chicken breast with a mallet.

Chef Ashley Keyes, in her white hat and jacket, positions children and their accompanying adults at stainless steel prep tables. Several adults stand on the sidelines, poised to help. 

It’s the community education kitchen at C.H.O.I.C.E.S. For Kids in downtown Atlanta. Parents and children are learning tasty, healthy and inexpensive recipes they can reproduce at home.

Although it’s a small commercial kitchen, there’s a convivial spirit — the feel of being in an African-American home kitchen in the South with friendly repartee and an appreciation for food.

C.H.O.I.C.E.S., a nonprofit devoted to ending childhood obesity, was founded in 2002 by accountant Vanetta Keys. 

Keyes started the program initially as a support group when her daughter, Ashley, was young.

“There weren’t many resources available to overweight kids,” Vanetta Keys said.

Today C.H.O.I.C.E.S. functions as a resource center providing cooking classes, workshops, summer camps and health expos. Ashley Keyes, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, is executive chef. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. has a budget of $150,000, one full-time staff person and three part-time staffers.

The cooking class, held one night a week for three weeks, focuses on an inexpensive recipe that can feed a family of four.

“It allows us to teach families how to cook healthier at home,” Vanzetta Keyes said.

“If I’m cooking in the kitchen I’m cooking more vegetables and produce,” she said. In a restaurant, she said, she would be eating more sodium.

African-American and Hispanic kids are at a higher risk of obesity than the population as a whole, which in turn raises their risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Gaining skills 

While the kids chop onions, peppers and mushrooms, Manning, the volunteer, sears the chicken on the grill.

Manning’s daughter, Olivia Richardson, 14, an intern in the program, demonstrates how to make garlic bread with roasted garlic cloves that are soft and spreadable. She is enrolled in a culinary program at Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Ga.

cooking: Kids and adults in white aprons cook at steel counter with red chopping boards and bowls.

Children and adults work together to make a chicken and eggplant dish at a class at C.H.O.I.C.E.S.

Cady Thomas, who turns 11 this month, is dicing peppers with her mother. “I learned how to cut onions and peppers,” she said.

When the chopping and mixing ends, the children and parents sit down in another room.

“What have you eaten this week?” Ashley asks the kids.

“Cereal,” a boy answers. “Cap’n Crunch.”

“If cereal has 9 grams of sugar or less, buy it,” she says to the group. “Do you know how much sugar is in a serving size of Cap’n Crunch?”

She sends the boy to get a box of packaged food from a table of items donated by the Atlanta Food Bank.

“This is a nutrition label. It tells you what’s in your food,” she says.

She shows the kids how to read the labels. They look at pictures of many different foods arranged under the categories “Go,” “Slow” and “Whoa,” indicating  which foods are best eaten frequently vs. infrequently. They learn to use a phone app that analyzes food labels.

Then it’s time for the whole group to dine on chicken parmesan with eggplant and angel hair pasta.

The program aims to address obesity from a nutrition standpoint, Vanetta Keyes says. 

To do so, it uses several ingredients.

While many after-school programs want to engage parents but find it difficult, the C.H.O.I.C.E.S. cooking class involves both parents and children. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. offers hands-on learning, presents information in an engaging way, builds career skills through internships and includes a communal meal. Parents also take home donated food items.

C.H.O.I.C.E.S. creates a positive experience while providing lots of nutrition information aimed at solving a challenging issue.

The post Nutrition Education, Multigenerational Cooking Lessons Target Childhood Obesity appeared first on Youth Today.


Nutrition Education, Multigenerational Cooking Lessons Target Childhood Obesity

cooking: 2 women in white cooking uniforms work with food at steel counter

Photos by Stell Simonton

Chef Ashley Keyes and high school intern Olivia Richardson make garlic bread at the nonprofit C.H.O.I.C.E.S., which combats child obesity through cooking and nutrition education.

A tomato sauce bubbles on the stove. The aroma of baking chicken fills the air.  There’s a hum of voices, a burst of laughter and a rhythmic pounding as volunteer Athena Manning flattens pieces of chicken breast with a mallet.

Chef Ashley Keyes, in her white hat and jacket, positions children and their accompanying adults at stainless steel prep tables. Several adults stand on the sidelines, poised to help. 

It’s the community education kitchen at C.H.O.I.C.E.S. For Kids in downtown Atlanta. Parents and children are learning tasty, healthy and inexpensive recipes they can reproduce at home.

Although it’s a small commercial kitchen, there’s a convivial spirit — the feel of being in an African-American home kitchen in the South with friendly repartee and an appreciation for food.

C.H.O.I.C.E.S., a nonprofit devoted to ending childhood obesity, was founded in 2002 by accountant Vanetta Keys. 

Keyes started the program initially as a support group when her daughter, Ashley, was young.

“There weren’t many resources available to overweight kids,” Vanetta Keys said.

Today C.H.O.I.C.E.S. functions as a resource center providing cooking classes, workshops, summer camps and health expos. Ashley Keyes, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, is executive chef. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. has a budget of $150,000, one full-time staff person and three part-time staffers.

The cooking class, held one night a week for three weeks, focuses on an inexpensive recipe that can feed a family of four.

“It allows us to teach families how to cook healthier at home,” Vanzetta Keyes said.

“If I’m cooking in the kitchen I’m cooking more vegetables and produce,” she said. In a restaurant, she said, she would be eating more sodium.

African-American and Hispanic kids are at a higher risk of obesity than the population as a whole, which in turn raises their risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Gaining skills 

While the kids chop onions, peppers and mushrooms, Manning, the volunteer, sears the chicken on the grill.

Manning’s daughter, Olivia Richardson, 14, an intern in the program, demonstrates how to make garlic bread with roasted garlic cloves that are soft and spreadable. She is enrolled in a culinary program at Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Ga.

cooking: Kids and adults in white aprons cook at steel counter with red chopping boards and bowls.

Children and adults work together to make a chicken and eggplant dish at a class at C.H.O.I.C.E.S.

Cady Thomas, who turns 11 this month, is dicing peppers with her mother. “I learned how to cut onions and peppers,” she said.

When the chopping and mixing ends, the children and parents sit down in another room.

“What have you eaten this week?” Ashley asks the kids.

“Cereal,” a boy answers. “Cap’n Crunch.”

“If cereal has 9 grams of sugar or less, buy it,” she says to the group. “Do you know how much sugar is in a serving size of Cap’n Crunch?”

She sends the boy to get a box of packaged food from a table of items donated by the Atlanta Food Bank.

“This is a nutrition label. It tells you what’s in your food,” she says.

She shows the kids how to read the labels. They look at pictures of many different foods arranged under the categories “Go,” “Slow” and “Whoa,” indicating  which foods are best eaten frequently vs. infrequently. They learn to use a phone app that analyzes food labels.

Then it’s time for the whole group to dine on chicken parmesan with eggplant and angel hair pasta.

The program aims to address obesity from a nutrition standpoint, Vanetta Keyes says. 

To do so, it uses several ingredients.

While many after-school programs want to engage parents but find it difficult, the C.H.O.I.C.E.S. cooking class involves both parents and children. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. offers hands-on learning, presents information in an engaging way, builds career skills through internships and includes a communal meal. Parents also take home donated food items.

C.H.O.I.C.E.S. creates a positive experience while providing lots of nutrition information aimed at solving a challenging issue.

The post Nutrition Education, Multigenerational Cooking Lessons Target Childhood Obesity appeared first on Youth Today.