National Summit Focuses on Children’s Welfare
By Anita Womack-Weidner
Over 200 judges and child welfare experts from 46 jurisdictions convened in New York this past March for a summit aimed at devising ways to improve the care and protection of vulnerable children across the nation.
"A Summit on Children: It’s Their Future— Ours Too!" was co-sponsored by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators in partnership with the National Center for State Courts and the New York State Unified Court System. The meeting is a follow-up to the first National Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children held two years ago in Minneapolis.
Pictured here are several New York state foster children
available for adoption.
Each state represented at the summit was asked to participate as a team of three or more,
a group to ideally include the chief judge, state court administrator and either the governor’s director of human services or a senior administrator of the human services agency responsible for the state’s child welfare system.
"As you know, today and every single day, we have an enormous amount of work to do to improve the lives and the life chances of our nation’s needy children, our children," said Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who welcomed participants to the summit.
"It is unethical and immoral for your life’s circumstances to be predicated on your zip code," said keynote speaker Geoffrey Canada, executive director of Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit, community-based organization that works to enhance the quality of life for children and families in some of New York City’s most devastated neighborhoods. Some children are forced to live in horrible conditions and to attend schools where students have failed for years, he added.
Canada also said that though people question how much it costs to fund programs that enrich children’s lives, they rarely if ever think about what we as a society are willing to spend down the line, when many of these broken youngsters wind up in prison. Canada’s organization spends $3,500 annually per family to provide educational and other support services, a fraction of the more than $30,000 it costs per year to incarcerate an individual in New York state. The Harlem Children’s Zone serves more than 12,500 children and adults through a variety of programs designed to rebuild the community.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer told the audience that refocusing state dollars to intervene earlier in the life of a child to address education, health care and other issues is clearly where social policy should head, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg discussed steps that New York City is taking to provide better training and other support to its child protective agency personnel.
A group of young adults gave conference attendees a view of what it’s like growing up in foster care. They told participants that every child deserves and needs caring adults and permanency in order to connect well with others and feel hopeful about the future.
Retired New York Family Court Judge Joan Cooney encouraged child welfare workers and others at the conference to do all they can to keep children transferred to a new foster home in their current schools. Foster children are more apt to become dropouts, she said, when they’re constantly being moved from school to school.
Spring 2007 (PDF)
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