Promise Neighborhoods Program

Education Dept. awards grants to 21 distressed communities to plan for ‘Promise Neighborhoods’, By Christine Armario (AP), September 21, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “Organizers in distressed communities from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., will soon begin plans to create what the Department of Education envisions as ‘Promise Neighborhoods,’ where children and families receive support services that boost a student’s chance of being successful in school. Twenty-one applicants for the program to transform communities and student outcomes were named on Tuesday. They will receive planning grants of up to $500,000. ‘Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. ‘These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.’ The program is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides comprehensive support for families from pregnancy through birth, education through college and career. Children in the program’s charter schools have made impressive gains on standardized tests and in closing the achievement gap…”

Millennium Development Goals – Education

Report: Poor countries face education crisis, By Jason Straziuso (AP), September 20, 2010, Washington Post: “Nearly 70 million children around the world are not getting an education despite much progress in the last 10 years, and Haiti and Somalia are the two worst countries in which to be a school-age child, a new report released Monday said. The global financial crisis has forced poor countries to cut their education budgets by $4.6 billion a year at a time when intensified efforts are needed to achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of ensuring a primary school education for every child in the world by 2015, it said. The report listed 10 countries at the bottom of the education list, all but Haiti are in Africa. In addition to Somalia, the others are Eritrea, Comoros, Ethiopia, Chad, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Liberia. It based the rankings on access to basic education, teacher-student ratio and educational provisions for girls. Even Kenya, considered successful compared to its East African neighbors, had to delay free education to 9.7 million children over the last year due to budgetary constraints, the report said. The report was produced by Education International, Plan International, Oxfam, Save the Children and VSO…”

Millennium Development Goals – Africa

U.N. Millennium Development Goals appear out of reach in Africa, By Robyn Dixon, September 13, 2010, Los Angeles Times: “Sub-Saharan Africa will not reduce poverty and hunger and improve child and maternal healthcare to meet the goals set a decade ago by the United Nations unless African and Western leaders do much more, several recent reports suggest. The main reasons: Donors have failed to keep pledges and many African nations have not improved their governments or increased health spending as promised. Only a handful of developed countries have met a pledge to increase foreign aid to 0.7% of their gross domestic product, while in some countries aid is declining. And only Rwanda, Tanzania and Liberia have met their pledge to spend 15% of their budgets on health, while in some African nations – Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and others – the proportion has fallen since 2000, according to a recent report out of Britain. The average spending on healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa remains less than 10% of GDP. The Millennium Development Goals were adopted by about 190 U.N. member countries in 2000 to tackle poverty, hunger, disease and early deaths in poor countries, with a series of targets set for 2015. The struggling efforts to meet those goals will be discussed at a three-day U.N. summit in New York beginning Monday…”

Maternal Mortality Rates

Gains made, but many pregnant mothers still die, By Binaj Gurubacharya (AP), September 17, 2010, Washington Post: “Astamaya Tami, 55, is part of a ragtag army of women who have turned Nepal into an against-all-odds success story when it comes to saving lives of expectant mothers, hundreds of thousands of whom die unnecessarily every year across the globe. She and others pull on their flip-flops and head into the mountains by car or on foot to visit desperately poor villages, some connected only by a single, rocky footpath. They bring vaccines, vitamins and, equally important, advice. ‘At first people were suspicious. They’d scold us, or wouldn’t talk to us at all,’ said Tami, herself a mother of eight, adding that not long ago almost all women were giving birth at home or in filthy, frigid cowsheds. They were helped only by female relatives or untrained midwives cutting umbilical cords with unsterilized knives. ‘But that’s all changed,’ said Tami, smiling proudly and dressed in a red ceremonial sari. Like many developing countries today – especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – this Himalayan nation of 28 million people, plagued by political instability following a decade-long communist insurgency, still faces massive challenges. But it is seen by many as an example of just how much can be achieved through sheer will when it comes to fighting maternal mortality: In the last five years, it has slashed rates in half. That is something 189 heads of state and development agencies well understood a decade ago when they set their Millennium Development Goals of tackling the world’s most serious humanitarian crises in the areas of poverty, disease and lack of education…”

Child Welfare System – Milwaukee, WI

When family fails | A child’s stability, a parent’s rights, By Crocker Stephenson, September 19, 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

  • How we reported this: “To help people gain a clearer understanding of how the child welfare system works in Milwaukee County, reporter Crocker Stephenson and photojournalist Kristyna Wentz-Graff received unprecedented access to two cases that reveal how the parties involved try to balance child safety with parents’ rights and the goal of a stable home life. The journalists spent more than eight months tracking three families – two mothers seeking to be reunified with their children and a foster couple hoping to adopt a child they have cared for since shortly after her birth…”
  • Struggle to reunite families can hurt children: “Brandy remembers that night, in early spring 2009, settling a $5 chunk of crack on the tip of her pipe. The pipe is a metal tube, blackened by frequent use on one end. The other end, which she places to her lips, is wrapped for protection with a torn matchbook cover and a piece of duct tape. She sits at her kitchen table in a public housing complex on the city’s north side. On the table is a black plate. On the plate are two more $5 pieces of crack. The black plate helps Brandy see them: nickel rocks, the size of peas. A fluorescent light hums above her head. Above the sink behind her is a plaster relief of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper.’ Brandy started smoking crack in her late teens. Thought she could control it. Thought it would keep her thin. Now she’s a heavyset 40-year-old addict, a pipe in her right hand, a lighter in her left. She is alone. Two sons – their father uninvolved – in foster care. Another son living with Brandy’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. A daughter living with another father’s relatives. Another daughter, yet another father, grown and with a child of her own…”
  • Lives tipped upside down: “Brandy’s vow in the spring of 2009 to regain custody of her two sons would require not only that she quit using drugs but that she also display an ability to keep the boys safe and provide for their well-being. Her most recent attempt at reunification had been a crashing failure. After nearly a year of sobriety, Brandy had been reunited with Tae and Shakiem in November 2006. At the time, Brandy was 39 years old and pregnant with her third son, who would be born in January 2007. In April 2007, Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare caseworker Kelly Smith, believing the boys, after years of moving from foster home to foster home, had successfully found permanency with their mother, filed a request to end bureau services to the reunified family by the year’s end. ‘Brandy recently gave birth to a healthy baby boy and the new addition and transition has been successful,’ Smith noted in the boys’ court files. In truth, Brandy was barely holding on…”
  • Motherhood put to the test: “It is early spring 2010. In a few minutes, Tae and Shakiem will arrive for an extended unsupervised visit with their mother.  They will be with Brandy for a week. She says she is exhausted already. A drug addict for more than two decades, Brandy has been clean for about a year – since March 2009 – but lately, night after night, she says, she dreams she is using again. ‘Nightmares,’ she says. Brandy’s sons – Tae is 12 and Shakiem is 10 – are among the more than 2,000 Milwaukee County children who, because of abuse or neglect, have been removed from their families and placed in out-of-home care by the state-run Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. The brothers have been in and out of foster care for most of their lives and have moved from one home to another more than a dozen times. The bureau is moving Tae and Shakiem toward reunification with their mom. They’ve been reunified with their mother before. Twice. Both times, the reunification failed. ‘Insanity,’ Brandy says before the boys arrive, ‘is repeating the same thing and expecting different results. Here I am. Repeating.’ Not quite, though, she hopes…”