Youth Services Law

Showing 9 posts from August 2009.

Preventing Bullying

The Department of Justice has issued a report about bullying in schools. It is part of the COPS series, so is geared toward school resource officers, but has some good information for administrators as well. Some of the research that it cites suggests that a principal's involvement in addressing the problem contributes to fewer incidents. It also recommends such common-sense strategies as increasing supervision in "hot spot" areas, and perhaps even redesigning the environment.

I disagree with one strategy, which is "developing a comprehensive reporting system to track bullying and the interventions used with specific bullies and victims."  It is a good idea in theory, but, if not done effectively, will just provide ammunition for an opposing attorney in a lawsuit. Like any school policy, do not create the policy unless you are going to follow and enforce it.  The only thing worse than no policy is a well-written policy that no one follows.

Victim of Bullying or Domestic Violence?

Speaking of bullying, DeKalb County has issued a report of its investigation into the suicide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera. His mother filed suit last spring, arguing that the child killed himself because of bullying at school. The school system hired a respected retired judge to investigate the situation.

One controversial aspect of the judge's findings is the possibility that the child's suicide was related to domestic violence that he witnessed. Apparently, his mother's boyfriend has a documented history of abuse toward his mother. The mother's attorney called the abuse a "non-issue," and said that it had no bearing on the case.

It is possible that the abuse had nothing to do with the child's suicide, but it certainly is an issue. The mental health research is overwhelming that children who witness domestic violence experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and aggression that children who do not. See also here.

Therapy Dog Helps Children Testify in Court

Posted In Child Witness

I just learned about this new trend of having therapy dogs sit with children while the children testify in court.  It will be interesting to see how this technique develops, and whether courts begin accepting the practice in civil trials as well.


Good Grief

Posted In Humor

Here's another entry in the funny-in-a-roll-your-eyes-sort-of-way.  The BBC reports that schools in the United Kingdom are switching to clip-on ties because of fears "of ties getting caught in equipment or strangling pupils."

Let's be honest -- they are switching because of a fear of lawyers.  I enjoy being a lawyer, but there's no doubt that we are directly responsible for a lot of stupid rules.

Hat tip: Overlawyered

Well, That Was Inevitable

Posted In Miscellaneous

CBS News reports that the Pennsylvania day camp that was excluded from a local swim club plans to file suit, alleging racial discrimination.  I do not know enough about the facts to comment on the case, but there should be some intriguing issues about the responsibility of a corporate body for the comments of individual members.  

Camille Paglia offers an interesting perspective that might make the case relevant to more camps and day care centers that I realized at first.  She speculates that the real issue may have been, not race, but income disparities:  "Urban working-class and suburban middle-class children often have quite different styles of play -- as I know from present observation as well as from my Syracuse youth, when I regularly biked to the public pool in Thornden Park. . . .  Were the mothers who pulled their kids out of the pool that day really reacting to skin color or what they, accurately or not, perceived to be an overcrowded, dangerous disorder?"

Again, I do not know the facts in this particular case, but there is no doubt that children's differing styles of play always pose a challenge for youth organizations.    It's another of those choose-your-poison dilemmas.  Watching a child too closely will garner complaints that you are picking on him or her.  But if you do not watch closely enough, you will get complaints that you allow bullying.  It's a tough balance, and there never are any good answers except in hindsight.

Checking on Social Workers

Posted In Miscellaneous

The Florida Department of Children and Families is experimenting with new technology that will require caseworkers to use GPS-like devices to check in every time they visit with a child on their case load.  The move is in response to an incident in which a case worker lied about checking on a child, who has disappeared from the system and is presumed dead. 

Color me unimpressed. The article describing the new technology notes that case workers caught falsifying records "repeatedly complained they had been assigned too many children to watch."  It would be easy to dismiss those complaints, except that studies of social services systems routinely find that case workers are struggling with high caseloads.  This federal survey, for example, found that case workers in Union County, Florida, have caseloads three times the number considered optimal.

Technology cannot create more hours in a day.  I understand that state budgets are hurting, and I am generally a fiscal conservative.  But there are some things that government has to do, and taking care of children when families cannot is one of those things.   Until state legislators start putting enough money in budgets to hire an adequate number of case workers, there is no amount or kind of technology that can prevent these sort of tragedies.

CBT v. Psychodynamic Therapy

One of the ongoing discussions in mental health research is about the relative benefits of psychodynamic therapy, probably the oldest form of therapy, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), probably the most-researched protocol.  Well, fans of psychodynamic therapy now have a new study to cite.

The American Journal of Psychiatry recently published a study comparing short-term psychodynamic therapy and CBT in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder.  The researchers found that both protocols offered significant improvement in anxiety, but CBT showed better results in treating depression.

The study was small (only 57 subjects), and involved adults, so it does not tell us much about therapy for traumatized children.  Still, it does reinforce the research showing that short-term therapy is just as effective as long-term.

Hat Tip:  World of Psychology

If Only They Were All This Easy

Posted In Humor

This is one of those stories that is funny only in a shake-your-head, gallows-humor sort of way.  A 24-year-old woman in Oregon called the police, complaining that her neighbors were harassing her for having sex with a 13-year-old.  The police responded, investigated the complaint, and promptly arrested her for, in fact, having sex with a minor.

What else is there to say?

Evidence-Based Treatment

I've been researching evidence-based treatment for a couple of weeks now, and so far the best summaries available are the DOJ study from 2004, and the report of the Kaufman Best Practices Project. The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse is an excellent resource for learning about various new programs.

If the forensic expert in your case has never heard of these reports, then a Daubert motion is (or should be) in the offing. If the child's treating therapist is not using a treatment program founded in mental health research, then damages are (or should be) a hotly-contested issue.

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