Battling meth: A rural Montana county starts drug court to reverse surge of kids in foster care

By Daniel Heimpel

When James Manley came to rural Lake County, Montana, as a district judge in 2013, he knew the meth problem was bad, but he didn’t know how much worse it would get.

Judge James Manley

Three-and-a-half years ago, Manley says the courthouse was processing roughly 220 felony cases a year. This year, he says the county will handle upwards of 500 drug-related felonies, and that at least 400 of those arrested will be parents.

“The destruction to families is incredible,” Manley said. “It breaks your heart to see families torn apart by addiction.”

Lake County, tucked in the northwest corner of the state, is at a breaking point. The jail regularly has inmates sleeping on the floor, the courts are clogged and kids are entering the foster care system at a stunning rate.

While the county is unique in that more than two-thirds of its 1,600 square miles of pristine forest, farms and pastureland sit on the Flathead Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, its meth problem is part of much larger, and disturbing, trend.

In October 2016, the federal Administration for Children and Youth and Families (ACYF), which oversees foster care nationwide, pointed to substance abuse – particularly meth and opioids – as a driving factor in a steady three-year increase in foster care numbers. From 2013 to 2015, the last year of national data available, the number of children in foster care grew from 401,000 to almost 428,000.

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Providers hope trauma legislation will help native children in foster care

By Jeremy Loudenback

Recent federal legislation put forward by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) proposes to address the issue of childhood trauma through the creation of a federal trauma task force.

The Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act would gather federal officials and members of tribal agencies to create a set of best practices and training to help create a better way to identify and support children and families that have experienced trauma.

In North Dakota, the home state for co-sponsor Heitkamp, advocates are hoping that the bill can have an impact on addressing the needs of Native American children who disproportionately enter the state’s foster care system. According to one report, Native American youth deal with post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate of 22 percent, three times the national average and at the same level as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

At PATH North Dakota, a non-profit child and family services agency, a trauma-informed approach means helping Native American children address historical trauma, as well as contemporary adverse experiences faced by children in foster care.

Jodi Duttenhefer and Heather Simonich, operations directors at PATH, recently talked with The Chronicle of Social Change about the new legislation, the importance of collecting data on the adverse childhood experiences of youth in its treatment foster care program and how the tribal community at Standing Rock is thinking about child trauma.

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After ICE detains father, Los Angeles sisters cope with trauma, disruption

The Avelica family

By Holden Slattery

Fatima Avelica was riding to school in her father’s car when a traffic stop by immigration officers in northeast Los Angeles suddenly turned her world upside down.

In the car, 13-year-old Fatima sobbed as she pointed her cell phone camera at the windshield and shot a video that shows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers handcuffing and detaining her father, Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez.

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Years after juvenile detention, adults struggle, study finds

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By Jeremy Loudenback

Children who have been admitted to a juvenile detention center often struggle with a range of issues years after being detained, according to results from a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The longitudinal study affords a rare look at how youth who experienced juvenile detention fared in terms of eight positive outcomes five and 12 years after detention.

The eight domains included the following: educational attainment, residential independence, gainful activity, desistance from criminal activity, mental health, abstaining from substance abuse, interpersonal functioning, and parenting responsibility.

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Dr. Nadine Burke Harris carries message about child trauma to White House and back

Nadine Burke Harris

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

By Jeremy Loudenback

The efforts of pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris to address of trauma experienced early in life have vaulted her to national attention.

In September, Burke Harris earned recognition from the Heinz Foundation for her work to establish a system to screen and treat children who are dealing with toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, poverty and violence. The annual Heinz Award honors five “exceptional Americans, for their creativity and determination in finding solutions to critical issues.” The prestigious Heinz Award for the Human Condition comes with a $250,000 prize.

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Juvenile transfers to adult court: A lingering outcome of the super-predator craze

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By John Kelly, ChronicleofSocialChange.org

Twenty years ago, in a speech at Keene State College in New Hampshire, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton made a comment about juvenile crime. Discussing the need for a top-level fight against gangs that harkened the mob-busting of previous decades, Clinton told reporters that “they are not just gangs of kids anymore.”

“They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators,’ ” Clinton continued. “No conscience, no empathy; we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

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Too young to say ‘I do’

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last in New Jersey. Photo: Unchained at Last

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last

by Christie Renick, ChronicleofSocialChange.org

This summer, Virginia lawmakers passed a law preventing anyone under the age of 16 from marrying in the state.

Some would call this progress, but advocates fighting to end child marriage in the United States see it as a sobering reminder that adults can legally marry children in all 50 states.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), child marriage is “perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls,” and “marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights.”

Fraidy Reiss is the founder of Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that helps women and girls leave or avoid forced marriages, and advocates to end the practice of child marriage. She lived in an arranged marriage for more than a decade.

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