March 2012 Archives

Increasing Autism Rates and Children with Disabilities

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"New estimates show that 1 in 88 American children have been identified as having autism spectrum disorder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said [yesterday], marking an increase of more than 20 percent since the last time such data were collected." (Education Week, March 29, 2012)

 

Recently, an article in Pediatrics highlighted the employment and earnings challenges for families with children with autism. In their research, Cidav, Marcus, and Mandell found that mothers of children with autism earn 35% less than the mothers of children with another health limitation and 56% less than the mothers of children with no health limitation. They are 6% less likely to be employed and work 7 hours less per week, on average, than mothers of children with no health limitation. These families face a significant economic burden. (See Pediatrics , 129(4), April 2012)

 

An upcoming volume of the Future of Children, "Children with Disabilities" (out at the end of April 2012), shows that over the past several decades, predominant childhood disabilities have shifted away from physical disorders toward mental health disorders.  Moreover, research shows mental health disorders  in childhood to have larger impacts than childhood physical health problems, on average, in terms of adult health, years of schooling, participation in the labor force, marital status, and family income.

 

In terms of economic costs, the volume's chapter, "The Economic Costs of Childhood Disability" states, "Childhood disabilities entail a range of immediate and long-term economic costs that have important implications for the well-being of the child, the family, and society." When looking at direct, out-of-pocket costs incurred as a result of a child's disability; indirect costs, often involving employment, incurred by the family; and long-term costs associated with the child's future economic performance, the negative effects appear to be much greater, on average, for children with mental health problems than for those with physical disabilities.

 

A key goal for society today is to devote resources to preventing, diagnosing, and managing mental health conditions in children to improve their functioning and trajectories. In fact, as the volume shows, the costs of not doing so may be greater than the costs of many interventions to prevent and reduce childhood disability.

 

Public discussion of childhood disability, by the media, parents, scholars, and advocates alike, tends to emphasize particular causes of disability, such as autism, asthma, cystic fibrosis, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  In the upcoming volume of the Future of Children, "Children with Disabilities," we focus not on individual disabilities, but rather on cross-cutting themes that apply more broadly to the issue of children with disabilities.

 

The volume will be published at the end of April. Please watch our website for this informative volume. You can also join our listserv if you would like to be notified by email when the journal becomes available.

 

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Should Juveniles Receive the Same Punishment as Adults?

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An earlier Future of Children blog post underscored a shift in the juvenile justice system toward more moderate policies, including greater emphasis on treatment programs as opposed to incarceration. Another sign of the policy transition, as indicated by Laurence Steinberg in the Future of Children volume on Juvenile Justice, is the 2005 Supreme Court opinion to eliminate capital punishment for juveniles. In 2010 the court also brought an end to life sentences without parole for juveniles not guilty of homicide.  

 

The recent school shootings in Ohio and subsequent media discourse regarding whether 17 year-old suspect TJ Lane should be tried as an adult have renewed public discussion about appropriate sentencing for juveniles. In some states, life in prison without the possibility of parole is a mandatory sentence for juveniles convicted of homicide, meaning the youth's background and age are not even taken into account. However, many believe that context is crucial to a fair sentence, especially for young offenders. National Public Radio reports that the Supreme Court hears arguments this week regarding whether it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole, even for homicide.

 

In their chapter Adolescent Development and the Regulation of Youth Crime, Elizabeth S. Scott and Laurence Steinberg explain that before the shift toward more moderate policy today, there had been a steady increase in homicide rates among juveniles, sparking a "moral panic" catalyzed by the media, which led to reform movements and harsher sentencing. "Through a variety of initiatives, the boundary of childhood has shifted dramatically in a relatively short time, so that youths who are legal minors for every other purpose, are adults when it comes to their criminal conduct." Today many politicians and the public realize the high economic costs and ineffectiveness of such initiatives. Context, more than punishment, is becoming a more frequented topic in policy discussion.

 

Drawing on evidence in developmental psychology, Scott and Steinberg argue that adolescents differ from adults in several ways. Teens may be less able than adults to use their capacities for cognitive reasoning because of a lack of experience and less efficiency in processing information. They may be less culpable than adults because they are more vulnerable to external pressures and coercion from peers. Finally, they contend that adolescent character may be relatively unformed.

 

To add your voice to the discussion on juvenile justice policy, comment on this or other related blog posts. For discussion on policies related to other adolescent behavior, see the Future of Children volumes on the Transition to Adulthood and America's High Schools. Also, check out the Future of Children website and follow the journal on Facebook and Twitter.

Graduation Rates Up in U.S.

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A recent report by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, America's Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education shows that the national graduation rate increased 3.5 percentage points from 72 percent in 2001 to 75.5 percent in 2009. At the same time, the report notes, the number of "dropout factories" -- high schools where at least 60 percent of students do not graduate on time -- fell 23 percent, from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,550 in 2010.


National progress in graduation rates was driven by significant gains made by a dozen states: New York, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Kentucky. The South and the suburbs saw the largest declines in dropout factory schools.


So what interventions work?


The report features multiple case studies that include intervention strategies such as increased mentoring of at-risk students, summer and evening high school expansions, changes in curriculum, and programs focused on special populations such as teen parents. The Washington Post highlights one such program in Washington County, Md., which increased its high school graduation rate from 78 percent in 2000 to 92 percent in 2010 using a combination of these interventions.


The Future of Children's America's High School volume analyzes a number of programs aimed at dropout prevention and suggests that successful programs generally have some or most of five elements in common:


1.) Close mentoring and monitoring of students, particularly at-risk students;


2.) Case management of individual students;


3.) Family outreach;


4.) Curricular reforms that focus either on a career-oriented or experiential approach or an emphasis on gaining proficiency in English, or both; and


5.) Attention to a student's out-of-school problems that can affect attendance, behavior, and performance.


Authors in America's High Schools take stock of the challenges facing U.S. high schools and consider what researchers and policymakers know about high school reform - what works and what does not. The volume focuses in particular on low-performing schools whose limited capacity often places a large number of students at high risk of failure.

Juvenile Justice Policy in a Period of Transition

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In the Future of Children volume on Juvenile Justice, author Laurence Steinberg explains that juvenile justice policy is in a transition phase. Downward trends in crime rates have led to an easing up on the "get tough" reform policies of the 1990s and early 2000s. Policymakers and the public are realizing the enormous cost and ineffectiveness of harsh sentencing for adolescents, and as a result, many state and local authorities have shifted toward more moderate policies by increasing funding for treatment programs as opposed to institutional placement.

 

In his chapter "Prevention and Intervention Programs for Juvenile Offenders," Peter Greenwood asserts that for every dollar invested in effective delinquency-prevention programs as opposed to juvenile prisons, taxpayers save about seven to ten dollars. Among the most successful evidence-based programs are home-visiting programs, in which specially trained nurses visit first-time mothers to provide them with training in childcare and social skills. Such programs have been shown to reduce child abuse, neglect, and arrest rates for children and mothers. In addition, some school-based dropout prevention programs have been linked to less delinquency and drug use and greater academic success.

 

Community-based programs have also been shown to effectively reduce delinquency. The most successful of these emphasize family relationships. Participants at a recent forum on the connection between child welfare, foster care, and juvenile justice in New York City note that past programs have often taken at-risk teens far from their families and communities, making care and counseling more difficult. In contrast, community-based programs that move the focus from the individual to the family can provide skills to adults who are already in the best position to influence the adolescent. One evidence-based example is Functional Family Therapy. Targeted toward youth involved in delinquency, substance abuse, and violence, the program focuses on strengthening the family unit, aiming to improve family interactions, problem solving skills, and parenting.

 

For more discussion on juvenile justice policy, check out related Future of Children blogs. For research highlights on evidence-based programs for improving outcomes among adolescents and young adults, see the Future of Children volumes Transition to Adulthood and America's High Schools. Also see the Future of Children website: http://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/

Christina Paxson, dean of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and senior editor of the Future of Children, has been selected to serve as the next president of Brown University. The Corporation of Brown University voted on her appointment in a special session on March 2, 2012.

 

Paxson began her academic career at Princeton University in 1986, becoming assistant professor of economics and public affairs in 1987. She became a full professor in 1997 and was named the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Economics and Public Affairs in 2007. In 2009, she was appointed dean of the Woodrow Wilson School.

 

Initially working on international economic problems of labor supply, mobility, savings, inequality, and aging, Paxson focused increasingly on the relationship of economic factors to health and welfare over the life course, particularly on the health and welfare of children. In 2000, she founded the Center for Health and Wellbeing, an interdisciplinary research center in the Woodrow Wilson School. The center established multidisciplinary graduate and undergraduate certificate programs in health and health policy. She served as the center's director until 2009.

 

In addition, Chris Paxson has been a senior editor at the Future of Children since the journal came from the Packard Foundation to Princeton University and the Brookings Institution in 2004. Paxson has made substantial contributions to the journal as a senior editor and as an issue editor for volumes on Childhood Obesity and Preventing Child Maltreatment.

 

The idea to bring the Future of Children from Packard to Princeton arose when Paxson and other leaders at Princeton wanted to begin a discussion about community health, which they felt had been hampered by Princeton's lack of a medical school, said Cecilia Rouse, professor of economic and public affairs at Princeton and senior editor of the Future of Children. (http://www.browndailyherald.com/mobile/paxson-s-economics-cover-broad-range-of-disciplines-1.2711218)

 

Ron Haskins, senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and Future of Children senior editor, said that Princeton/Brookings won the national competition to work on the Future of Children largely due to Paxson, who wrote an excellent proposal. In the crowded field of economics, Paxson has often stood out for her strong interest in issues of children's health, Haskins added.

 

Sara McLanahan, a Princeton professor of sociology and public affairs and Editor-in-Chief of the Future of Children said Paxson's research elucidates the long-term negative effects of poor childhood health and the way health disparities at early stages continue to widen. She added that Paxson's determination and humility made her an effective collaborator.

 

As McLanahan notes in the Providence Journal, Paxson has the ability to "persuade people to go along with her because they trust her. They know she's really trying to promote the common good as opposed to herself... [She] has a rare combination of great intelligence and humility." (www.providencejournal.com)

 

"She's just so smart, talented -- a calm leader with vision," Cecilia Rouse adds. "It was just a matter of time until someone saw that, and she moved on."

 

To read Future of Children volumes Childhood Obesity and Preventing Child Maltreatment, both of which were edited by Christina Paxson, go to: http://www.futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/.

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