The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Department of Justice are teaming with Facebook to create AMBER Alert pages to help in the search for missing children, reports USA Today. There will be a Facebook page for each state, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. "I think it's really a logical and exciting use of the medium," said Ernie Allen, president of the center for missing children.
"It's one more avenue to reach the public and reach the younger generation," said Laurie Robinson, assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, which is the national coordinator of the AMBER Alert program. Facebook users will be able to opt-in to receive posts in their news feed when an AMBER Alert is issued in their area. "It's targeted geographically," Allen says. "You're not going to be inundated with them." There are 120 AMBER Alert plans across the U.S. and others worldwide. Each state or territory's AMBER Alert coordinator initiates the alert through the Emergency Alert System, and the center issues secondary alerts, such as messages on billboards, mobile phones and now, the new Facebook pages. From 2005 to 2009, 98.5 percent of AMBER Alerts cases have been resolved.
Forty percent of Massachusetts school districts have not filed bullying-prevention plans, despite a Dec. 31 deadline to comply with a new law that seeks to improve protection for students, the Boston Globe reports. The law was passed amid urgent calls for action following the suicide of bullied student Phoebe Prince on Jan. 14. It requires schools to adopt clear procedures for reporting and investigating cases of bullying, as well as methods for preventing retaliation against those who report problems.
The new measure has sparked widespread debate about complex aspects of a longtime social problem, including how to define bullying, whose responsibility it is to stamp it out, and how schools can control conflict on the Internet. The law does not specify penalties for failing to file a plan by the deadline. Robert Trestan of the Anti-Defamation League was troubled by the numbers, given the publicity surrounding the new law and the fact that school districts have had since May to comply. “To change the culture, everyone needs to be on board,’’ he said. “Parents are in a position to hold schools accountable, and if your district doesn’t have a policy, you need to step up and ask why not.’’
It looks like Big Brother wants to put an end to child care fraud in Wisconsin, says Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane. The state has approved a $1 million pilot program to install fingerprint scanners in child care centers to combat fraud in the Wisconsin Shares subsidy program. Although many Americans are concerned about technology's encroaching threats to their privacy, that doesn't seem to apply when it comes to black children in Milwaukee.
The Wisconsin Shares program was ripped off for millions of dollars by some corrupt child care providers who used state funds meant for poor children and families to line their own pockets. The Journal Sentinel's Pulitzer Prize-winning series "Cashing in on Kids" pulled the covers off much of the abuse, including shoddy oversight by state bureaucrats that allowed the scandal to happen. Because a large part of the abuse involved some providers being paid for taking care of children who never showed up at the center, the fingerprinting policy was deemed a good way to track attendance and eliminate fraud. Still, for some in town, the idea of scanning fingerprints of young children just seemed wrong. "We are not going to allow our children to be branded like cattle!" said an African-American mother on Facebook. A caller on black radio in Milwaukee said, "It's like putting black children 'on paper' before they even become criminals!" he said, alluding to the term used when someone is caught up in the criminal justice system.
Elizabeth Diane Downs, Oregon's notorious child-killer, is due for another parole hearing tomorrow, The Oregonian reports. Sentenced in 1984, Downs is serving a life sentence plus 55 years for killing her 7-year-old daughter severely wounding her 8-year-old daughter Christie Ann and 3-year-old son. Her story is told in the movie "Small Sacrifices," based on a book by Ann Rule.
She complains that when the movie is shown on television, "people want to kill me." Downs is arguing that her sentence is invalid because it was based on a diagnosis of "severe narcissistic personality disorder." That condition is no longer recognized by U.S. psychiatrists.
Local jail populations are declining around the nation, says a Pew Charitable Trusts study quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The high cost of keeping people in jail has communities looking at alternatives to incarceration that still maintain public safety, says "Local Jails: Working to reduce populations and costs," from the trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative. County jails are used mostly to hold defendants awaiting trial and convicted offenders serving short-term sentences or awaiting transfers to other prisons.
The Pew report found average jail population in more populous communities nationwide down 2.3 percent in 2009 from the previous year. "It is too soon to tell whether this one-year dip is the start of a new trend, but many jurisdictions seem intent on reversing the population growth of prior years," the study said. The number of prisoners in Pittsburgh's Allegheny County jail dropped by an even larger amount, said Warden Ramon Rustin. Jail commitments in 2009 totaled 18,141, down almost 11 percent from 2008's total of 20,383. Rustin credited the county court's Pretrial Services Department for helping to reduce the number of prisoners sent to the jail. Last year's decline in local jail commitments follows a decade of increases. Between 1999 and 2008, jail populations climbed 30 percent nationally.
In a ruling that likely will have far-reaching implications for about 150 priest sex abuse cases pending or tied up in bankruptcy court, a Dover, Del., jury found that St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic parish was grossly negligent in its failure to properly supervise then-priest Francis DeLuca and is responsible for at least $3 million of $30 million in damages awarded to John M. Vai, who repeatedly was molested as a teenager in the 1960s, reports the Wilmingon News-Journal. The parish also may end up owing Vai more after the Kent County Superior Court jury rules on potential punitive damages.
On the stand, Vai, 58, told a jury that his case was not about the money but about getting the truth out and getting compensation for the loss of his childhood. Vai said Wednesday he was pleased with the outcome and that the jury believed his account. "Personally, I feel some of the weight is relieved," he said. Wilmington Bishop W. Francis Malooly issued a brief statement in which he again apologized on behalf of the diocese to Vai and all other victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. He also said he was "disappointed that the jury found the people of St. Elizabeth liable for the acts of Francis DeLuca" and said it is "unfortunate" that they will have to pay for DeLuca's "criminal and sinful acts" from more than 40 years ago.
Iowa law does not require school districts to report student abuse when it happens from their own teachers — even though licensed school employees are considered mandatory reporters of abuse, reports the Des Moines Register. The way districts handle abuse cases stems from an opinion by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office regarding the state's mandatory reporting law. In 1979, Brent Appel, then an assistant attorney general and now an Iowa Supreme Court justice, said the law pertains to abuse by people responsible for the care of children. That does not include teachers, he wrote.
The decision and lack of subsequent action by lawmakers made Iowa the only state to keep parents or others from reporting child abuse by teachers to the Iowa Department of Human Services, said Kathy Collins, a retired lawyer with the Iowa Department of Education. Parents can, however, report alleged abuse by teachers to police. If parents contact the Department of Human Services regarding teacher abuse, the agency refers them to police, a department spokesman said. "Many made it known to their legislators that they were not happy," Collins said. "The teacher is obligated to file a complaint against (the parent), but the shoe doesn't fit the other foot."
Because of privacy laws, the Internal Revenue Service won't give law enforcement information that could lead to apprehending child abductors, says the New York Times. The laws, enacted in the 1970s to prevent Watergate-era abuses of confidential taxpayer information, have exceptions allowing the IRS to turn over information in child support cases and to help federal agencies determine whether an applicant qualifies for income-based federal benefits.
Guidelines on handling of criminal cases pose obstacles for parents and investigators pursuing a child abductor — even when the taxpayer in question is a fugitive and the subject of a felony warrant. "It’s one of those areas where you would hope that common sense would prevail," said Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "We are talking about people who are fugitives, who have criminal warrants against them. And children who are at risk." About 200,000 family abductions are reported each year in the U.S., most stemming from custody disputes between estranged spouses. About 12,000 last longer than six months and involve parental abductors who assume false identities and travel to escape detection.
Friends and family worried that 10-year-old Zahra Baker of Hickory, N.C., was in danger, says the Charlotte Observer. They saw bruises and a black eye. They questioned her parents. They reported suspected abuse to the Department of Social Services. Police believe the missing girl whose story has captured worldwide attention is dead. They are investigating her disappearance as a homicide and last week jailed her stepmother, who they say admitted writing a phony ransom note. As the search for the girl entered its second week, the case raises fresh questions about North Carolina's long-troubled child protection system.
The state's own reviews show it's not uncommon for children to die in North Carolina under suspicious circumstances while their families are under state supervision or had recent contact with social workers. At least 137 children died during a recent five-year period in cases where abuse or neglect were suspected to have contributed - even though the state social services department had contact with their families within 12 months before they died, the Observer found. That's up from 119 deaths during the prior five years. And it comes at a time when child deaths overall in the state are at a record low. Most of the 137 died from illnesses or accidents, but at least 26 became victims of homicide, usually committed by relatives or caregivers.
All of North Carolina's new law enforcement officers should be required to undergo specialized training on child death scene investigations, the state's medical examiner and a legislative task force say, according to the Charlotte Observer. The proposal is among several prompted by an Observer series this year, "Cradle of Secrets," that looked at five years of sudden infant death syndrome cases in North Carolina and found that police frequently fail to investigate the deaths thoroughly, if at all.
Tom Vitaglione, co-chair of the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force, and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch now want the state to hire trained death scene investigators and put them in regional offices so they can respond to infant and child deaths. North Carolina doesn't have full-time trained investigators to send to most infant deaths, but a growing number of jurisdictions nationally do. Also under consideration: finding ways to push more police to use state-issued checklists when they go to death scenes. The six-page checklists could help many officers do a more thorough job, experts say. They're now optional. "I think we need standards," said Brett Loftis, a task force member and Charlotte children's rights advocate who supports the new efforts. "The inconsistency with how deaths are being handled across the state is cause for concern." The Observer's series found that most N.C. cases of SIDS, considered a natural and unpreventable death, contained evidence that suggested the babies actually might have suffocated. At least 69 percent of SIDS babies over the five-year period were in risky sleep situations. That included infants sleeping with one or more adults, on couches, adult beds, pillows and comforters, or face down.