Category Archives: Children and families

The Most Cost-Effective Anti-Poverty Program Known to Man: Contraception

Back to exploring “root causes” of poverty… This chart shows vividly how poverty is a demography-driven phenomenon. Poor people have more children than the not-poor do, and they have children at a younger age. The consequence of this “disparity” in fertility rates is that the percentage of children raised in poverty is vastly higher than the percentage of poor people in the population as a whole. Even as thousands of Virginians succeed in lifting themselves out of poverty, the reservoir of poor people is continually replenished. Continue reading

How Crime-Prone Students Worsen Educational Outcomes for Everyone

Exposure to crime-prone students in school has “large and significant” effects on test scores, school discipline and even adult criminal behavior, finds a new study by Stephen B. Billings and Mark Hoekstra published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Exposure to crime-prone peers in the same neighborhood also has an effect, but the negative influence is far stronger in the school setting.

“We estimate that a five percentage point increase in school and neighborhood crime-prone peers increases arrest rates at age 19-21 by 6.5 and 2.6 percent respectively,” state the authors in “Schools Neighborhoods, and the Long-Run Effect of Crime-Prone Peers.” 

Billings and Hoekstra stick to the narrow issue of establishing the correlation between “crime-prone peers” and students’ cognitive and behavioral outcomes, but the study is sure to influence the debate over school disciplinary policies. If students displaying anti-social behavior are kept in school as part of the therapeutic disciplinary regime now in vogue, one can predict negative spillover effects on fellow students.
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If Kids Are Going Hungry, Does Anyone Care Why?

No one wants to see children go hungry, so one’s natural instinct is to sympathize with a new initiative like No Kid Hungry, which is helping parents and caregivers locate free meals in their communities with a simple text message. But a Richmond Times-Dispatch article profiling the program makes a startling statement:

The school year is over this week for most local schoolchildren, which means so are the daily meals many of them rely on as their main — and sometimes only — source of nourishment.

Note the RTD’s emphasis: School breakfast and lunch programs are sometimes the only source of nourishment for American school children. The RTD is asserting, presumably drawing upon the authority of its sources, that some kids in America don’t have access to any food during the summer. Is that not an astonishing statement? If true, is that not an an extraordinary indictment of our social safety net? Continue reading

A Horrible Abuse Case. The Daily Reality Behind It.

Click for larger view. Source: Families Forward

The news today is horrifying – the death, possibly from sexual abuse, of a 17-month-old. Our distracted minds are focused, for a while, and we all go into a collective shudder and wonder what monster could do such a thing.

The daily reality is worse and doesn’t get enough attention. In the fiscal year ending last June, Virginia child abuse and neglect investigations resulted in 6,485 “founded” reports. The standard for a founded report, out of the 37,000 complaints involving more than 55,000 children, is that a preponderance of the evidence supported the claim.  Continue reading

Replacing One Inequity with Another

Governor Ralph Northam vetoed a bill yesterday that would have imposed mandatory minimum sentences on repeat domestic abusers on the grounds that racial minorities would be disproportionately affected.

I nearly headlined this post, “Northam to Domestic Abuse Victims: Drop Dead.” I decided that wouldn’t be quite fair. But I wouldn’t be surprised if many people interpret his action that way.

Thanks to Northam’s veto, Virginia might be “fairer and more equitable” to perpetrators of domestic violence. But will it be “fairer and more equitable” to victims? The data is patchy, but considerable evidence suggests that African-Americans are roughly twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence as whites. One could argue that creating racial “equity” for African-American criminals creates inequity for African-American victims, primarily females. Continue reading

Foster Care Reform: This Just Might Work

Governor Ralph Northam at foster-care bill-signing ceremony, sitting in the company of Carlos Johnson, who recently aged out of the foster care system. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the Age of Donald Trump and the Resistance, it’s hard to find anything that most Americans agree upon. But one is that society — working through government and nonprofits — can do a better job of helping kids removed from the custody of unfit parents. In Virginia, unfortunately, the state’s foster care system is the very stereotype of dysfunctional government. Accordingly, great stock is being placed in a foster-care reforms and a public-private partnership highlighted by Governor Ralph Northam yesterday.

The cynic in me wonders how well these initiatives are thought through. Do they address symptoms or underlying problems? Will they benefit the intended beneficiaries or just create a new self-perpetuating bureaucracy? I lean toward the view that the programs will help. I see no downside, no potential for harm. And unlike many social-engineering schemes, they require only modest sums of taxpayer money. 

In the wake of a devastating indictment of the foster care system by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), the General Assembly approved $3.7 million in added funding for child welfare agencies. A new director-level position in state government will oversee the health and safety of children in the state’s care. The state also has new powers to intervene when local child welfare agencies are botching the job. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Incompetence and Failure Everywhere You Look

Where are the social justice warriors? SJWs are super sensitive to subtle signs of “institutional racism.” Perhaps they should focus on the widespread incompetence in Virginia’s local foster care systems. For instance: A Virginian-Pilot investigation has found “a pattern of mismanagement, retribution and poor performance” in Norfolk’s foster care program. “Employees say they saw the foster care program go from bad to worse. It started with  children languishing in foster care for years, with little done to get them adopted. In more recent years, case workers say they’ve been pressured to get kids off the foster care rolls by any means necessary, even if that sometimes meant putting the children in harm’s way.” Sometimes foster children have been placed in situations where they have been assaulted and sexually molested. These children are disproportionately African-American. Why hasn’t this failed system become a cause celebre of the Left? Could it be that it doesn’t fit The Narrative?

Metro free falling. Ridership on the Washington Metro system continues its steady decline, sinking to fewer than 600,000 average weekday trips for the first since since 2000, according to the Washington Post. Ridership peaked in 2008 at 750,000 weekday trips. The passenger rail system, plagued by safety and maintenance issues, has been engaged in a SafeTrack rebuilding program that may account for some of the loss. But the system suffers chronic problems, such as too few trains, too many service disruptions, and the emergence of ride-hailing alternatives such as Uber and Lyft.

Why so few starter homes? Why are home builders constructing so few starter homes (defined as those selling for $200,000 or less)?  Continue reading

Assisted Conception Option For The New Realities

Rick Olson, Jay Timmons and children at their McLean home.

A major revision of Virginia’s assisted conception laws has fought its way through to a final vote in the State Senate Monday, pushed by a former Virginia official who has gone public with his unconventional and very 21st century family.

Jay Timmons and his husband Rick Olson faced a major legal battle in Wisconsin a few years back over the surrogacy agreement they had with the mother of their third child.  The child was conceived using a frozen embryo from a couple that had used a similar method to build a family of four, didn’t want to use the remaining embryos themselves, but also didn’t want them destroyed.   Continue reading

Asian Family Values

Data source: Virginia Department of Social Services

A few days ago I posted data showing that “Asians” in Virginia are a diverse group whose country of origin include India, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines and many other nations. Some groups are very well-to-do, some middling. But none, regardless of the circumstances of how they arrived here, are poor.

In the past, I have attributed part of the superior educational and income performance of “Asians” to the strong, family-oriented culture of the diverse immigrant groups lumped into that broader racial classification. Recently, while poking around Virginia adoption data, I have uncovered one measure of how Asian family values make life better for children. Continue reading

Foster Care: How Big a Problem in Virginia?

Source: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

As the General Assembly ponders how to reform Virginia’s sometimes-dysfunctional foster care system, I thought it worthwhile to present some data on the stakes involved.

The number of children in the system decreased between 2007 and 2013, then ticked up again in recent years. One reason for the increase, according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report, “Improving Virginia’s Foster Care System,” was the creation of the Fostering Futures program, which raised the age at which children exit foster care from 18 to 21.

At the same time, notes JLARC, Virginia has the lowest rate of foster-care placement of any state in the country. In September 2016, the proportion of children in foster care was 2.6 per 1,000 children. States JLARC: “The precise reasons for Virginia’s low rate are unclear.” Continue reading

Lawsuits, Fiscal Stress and the Autism Epidemic

Junior Matthews with his mother and father, Gregory and Tonie Matthews. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Gregory  “Junior” Matthews, Jr., 16, has been diagnosed with severe autism. He is nonverbal and classified as disabled. Providing for his education is very expensive. His parents, who until recently lived in Henrico County, sought to send him to the Faison Center, which specializes in educating children with severe autism. But Henrico County balked at its share of the cost — about $23,000 annually, covering about one-third of the tuition. (The state covers the rest.)

The Henrico County School Board filed a lawsuit February to overturn a hearing officer’s decision that the county had not been meeting the boy’s needs and should pay to send him to a private school that could. Now a federal judge has dismissed the lawsuit, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Continue reading

Tracing the Epidemic of Children with Disabilities to Its Source

Source: Virginia Child Protective Service

Virginia public schools are swamped by an increasing number of children afflicted with disabilities, the vast majority of which are emotional or cognitive in nature. Schools are experiencing a silent crisis as they try to accommodate a growing cohort of students who have a legal entitlement under the law to a greater share of resources and who, when mainstreamed, often disrupt the education of their classmates. Given society’s commitment, born of compassion, to educating children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, schools are caught in a tightening vice.

How did we get here? Why are there so many needy children? Has it always been this way? Have American schools always had a large percentage of children whose needs simply went unrecognized — or, as it often feels, are things getting worse? And if they are, why? Continue reading

Disadvantaged, Disabled and Homeless

In the last post I pledged to explore, and hopefully to explain, the social epidemic of broken kids. For all our rising incomes and for all our advances in health care, the number of children suffering from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as the number diagnosed with autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and other cognitive and emotional disorders appears to be on the rise. The problem cannot be attributed to one single cause. It is multi-factorial and complex.

I’m certainly no expert, just a journalist trying to understand what’s happening. One place to start is to look at numbers generated by the Virginia Department of Education and made accessible through its searchable Build-a-Table database of Standards of Learning test takers. VDOE tracks the number of kids designated disadvantaged (eligible for free school lunch programs), disabled (falling within one of 10 sub-classifications), and homeless. All are associated with higher failure rates in SOL tests, and all are associated with behavioral problems that disrupt classes for other children.


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A Rising Generation of Broken Kids

Claiborne Mason, president of the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, talks to students at the John G. Wood School.

In the 15 years Brendan Folmar has worked at the John G. Wood School, a private day school for emotionally handicapped children, he has witnessed a disturbing change in the kind of children admitted to the school.

When he first joined the Wood School staff, many of students were comparable to students today who are mainstreamed in Virginia public schools. Today the condition of students at Wood, says Folmar, the school principal, is more acute and more challenging to treat than ever. Continue reading

Measuring Outcomes for Private Schools that Teach Kids with Disabilities

Location of schools belonging to the Virginia Association of Independent Specialized Education Facilities. See member list here.

There are more than 90,000 kids classified with disabilities in Virginia’s public school system. They typically require more resources than other students — smaller class sizes, educational assistants, and the like — and local school districts are struggling to pay for them. Not all of the funds spent by the Commonwealth of Virginia on behalf of kids with disabilities goes to public schools, however. Millions of dollars support the roughly 80 private day schools that specialize in educating children with specific disabilities from autism to dyslexia.

Not surprisingly, when state resources are finite, not everyone agrees on who should get what. Some say that many children with disabilities could be schooled effectively but at less expense in public school settings than in highly resource-intensive private schools. Private school advocates counter that their higher staff ratios and specialized training, though more expensive, provide better outcomes. But nobody knows for sure because the private schools don’t collect data in a way that would inform the debate. Continue reading