Monday, October 26, 2009

NYT Story Hightlights the 'New Runaways'

From today's New York Times:

Recession Drives Surge in Youth Runaways

As more families face economic hardships, experts have seen an increasing number of children leave home for life on the streets, including many under 13.

One reader commented:

I never considered myself a "runaway" though I left my family at age 15. My heart goes out to these young people. I know what it is like to feel that kind of desperation. I also know the feeling of liberation once you leave an untenable situation.In my case, I can only say that what saved my life was a woman who brought me into her home and gave me safety, believed what I was telling her (though the stories were very slow from my end out of shame and fear), and asked for little in return. Her generousity of spirit and unbending confidence in me is what helped me to heal and develop a life for myself.I did not use drugs or alcohol, and at 17, enrolled in an Ivy League college on financial aid and grants, and supported myself 100% from working bad jobs while going through school, which I completed in four years.What every runaway needs is one single compassionate person to believe them, and in them, and with little effort will bring him/her into their fold, listen and love. This is what humanity is all about.

Doug Tanner, NEN's technical assistance coordinator and a specialist in runaway and homeless youth programs, add this:

This NYT story, combined with the video “When No One’s Looking,” provide a powerful and personal look at youth homelessness. We know that families are under extreme stress due to the recession. Given the usual increases in substance abuse and domestic violence when times are tough, it stands to reason that youth are suffering in disproportionate numbers. In a small study on disabilities among homeless youth we did in the mid-90’s, 60% of the youth who participated in a Transitional Living Program in Greenfield, MA were disabled in some way -- physically, cognitively or emotionally. The personal stories of the youth in the NYTimes story and the corresponding video were all too familiar in that respect. Few people can go through months or years of fear, malnutrition, and violence of the sort that is encountered living “on the street” and survive without long-term or permanent damage. The damage caused often results in chronic disease, mental disorders or physical disabilities.

It’s important to remember that only a few of these kids will actually survive intact. In our society, we tend to focus on those who overcome difficult circumstances – we are inspired by the remarkable stories of courage and persistence that some survivors are able to tell. However, in real life, many, if not most will be harmed for life. AIDS, HepC, pre-mature cancer, PTSD, emotional instability, substance abuse and terrible injuries are just some what’s in store for them.

Ironically, the cost of providing adequate alternatives to many, if not most of the youth who are in these circumstances could be easily done if the country only would prioritize the issue. State child protective systems are not the answer. Most homeless youth are too old to be served effectively by child protective systems. One part of the answer is really simple – expand by tenfold the Runaway and Homeless Youth programs we have now. Despite the fact that they have proven to be cost effective with demonstrated results, there are still only about 200 Transitional Living Programs in the US. Many states only have one or two, some have none. The combined cost of these programs is only 40 million dollars a year – an absolute drop-in-the-bucket in terms of federal expenditures. The abstinence programs, that we have hopefully seen the last of, were costing us 100 million dollars a year. Put all of that money into transitional living, shelter and outreach programs for youth and young adults, then multiply it by three (still less than half a billion!) and we’d be able to do something about this – and save ourselves 100 fold in the next 10 or 20 years – not only in terms of less crime, homelessness and disease, but in return on investment when youth who participate in RHY programs grow up to become healthy, contributing citizens.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Money to Burn in Georgia

This story from today's Washington Post caught my attention, and not, shall we say, in a good way. My first thought: When staff from children's agencies have to jump in Boston Harbor in February to raise money for their "cause" (which is actually society's cause, of course), it is hard to imagine lawyers, however dedicated they may be, reaping this kind of windfall for merely doing their job. I'm all for advocates making a living wage (me being one of those advocates), and even profiting through exceptional competence. But when states are cutting services to children all over the place, when residential treatment as a very concept is endangered, why not put that $4.5 million toward - I don't know, the children in question? Just a thought. Public service lawyers everywhere are encouraged to disagree strenuously.

From the Post:

The Supreme Court spends a sizable portion of its time dealing with lawyers gone bad: the ones who miss critical filing deadlines, put up halfhearted defenses of clients facing death row, give bad advice with disastrous results.

On Wednesday, the court was faced with what to do about lawyers who do good. And also, extremely well.

The justices focused on a group of lawyers from a children's rights group and a private law firm who won a transformation of the state of Georgia's dysfunctional foster-care system. Their work on behalf of 3,000 children so impressed the federal judge who presided over the case that he awarded them a bonus of $4.5 million -- on top of the $6 million in legal fees he told the state to pay.

It made for an animated debate on the skyrocketing cost of legal work, exorbitant salaries for lawyers, whether judges should grade the lawyers who come before them and whether Congress intended some sort of bonus for lawyers who take on uncertain and sometimes unpopular civil rights cases.

Federal law allows those who prevail in such cases to recover their fees, and the judge in the case calculated those fees by multiplying what he thought were the reasonably expected billable hours by the prevailing hourly rate in Atlanta for such work, ranging from $215 an hour for the most junior associate to up to $495 for the most experienced partner.

But U.S. District Judge Marvin H. Shoob went further in awarding the bonus. He said the lawyers from the group Children's Rights and Atlanta's Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore law firm displayed a "higher degree of skill, commitment, dedication and professionalism" than he had seen during his time on the bench, and that in "58 years as a practicing attorney and federal judge, the court is unaware of any other case in which a plaintiff class has achieved such a favorable result on such a comprehensive scale."

The state of Georgia balked at paying the multimillion-dollar bonus, and said neither federal law nor Supreme Court precedent allowed such "enhancements."