Monday, May 30, 2011

The Early Learning Challenge

On May 25th, the federal government announced it will allocate 500 million to a new Race to the Top competition establishing and expanding high-quality early learning programs. These competitive grants, called The Early Learning Challenge, will allow states to develop child care and preschool programs pertaining to health, social, emotional, and educational outcomes for children from birth to age 5, particularly serving underprivileged populations. The application for funds under the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge encourage states to increase access to early learning programs for low-income children, construct interconnected and clear systems that correlate early care and education programs, bolster training for the early learning workforce, implement comprehensive assessments based on sound recommendations, and assist parental decision-making regarding early childhood care. The Early Learning Challenge offers a promising opportunity for states to receive financial support for early childhood care and education and serves as a worthwhile alternative to explore.

For more information on the strategies pertaining to the development of early learning programs and policy initiatives, visit Policy for Results.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Infant-Toddler Child Welfare Agenda: CSSP and Partners Issue a Call to Action

Every year, almost 200,000 children ages birth to 3 years old come into contact with the child welfare system; more than a third of them are placed in foster care, representing the largest age group entering care. Child maltreatment threatens the significant brain development children undergo at these ages, and the policies and practices of the child welfare system may fail to address or even exacerbate these effects. Child welfare policy and practice rarely view young children through a developmental lens or recognize the special vulnerability of this group, but significant research about promoting healthy brain development in infants and toddlers exist and can shape more effective, supportive policies and practices.

With a coalition of long-time partners—including American Humane Society, Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Defense Fund, and ZERO TO THREE, Center for the Study of Social Policy has issued a policy agenda aimed at better addressing the developmental needs of infants and toddlers who come into contact with the child welfare system. It is intended to provide a starting point for federal, state and local policymakers and administrators to assess where and how they can revise or institute policies that protect the safety and development of young children. This call to action presents the compelling evidence for addressing the needs of infants and toddlers. It then suggests key elements of a developmental approach for infants and toddlers in child welfare.

Visit for more information about preventing child abuse and neglect, as well as safely increasing exits from foster care to permanence. Join our mailing list via our homepage to receive updates on strategies to promote children’s social, emotional and behavioral health—coming soon!

Monday, May 23, 2011

LIHEAP: A Growth in Need and a Reduction in Funding

The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists vulnerable families in paying their home heating and cooling bills. Low-income households, defined as those with incomes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty threshold, may apply for funds for heating or cool­ing expenses, crisis intervention to prevent energy-related emergencies such as utility shutoffs, or weatherization and energy-related home repairs. However, the FY 2012 budget proposes cutting nearly half of the program’s funding ($2.5 billion of the $5.1 billion). A new report by the Carsey Institute, Energy Assistance Programs Benefitted 48 Percent More Households During Recession: Proposed Cuts Threaten Vulnerable Families, (using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey’s (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement) found that more American families are turning to federal assistance to heat their homes during the winter, with many more families eligible but not taking advantage of the program. Some highlights of the report include:

  • Between the 2007 and 2010 surveys, 48 percent more households reported receiving winter energy assistance. Many more families are eligible than receive assistance.
  • In winter 2009/2010, only 11 percent of income-eligible households received support.
  • Significantly more households in the severe winter regions of the Northeast and Midwest receive assistance than in the warmer regions of the South and West.
  • Households headed by a single parent rely heavily on energy assistance, particularly in rural areas where rates of receipt are greater than 20 percent.
  • Poor households are more likely to receive energy assistance than other low-income households, suggesting that the neediest households are being reached.
  • The highest rates of energy assistance are in rural areas, particularly in the rural Northeast and Midwest. In the 2009/2010 winter, New Englanders received the highest average benefit, at $747.

For more information on strategies to promote family economic success, visit Policy for Results.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Connecticut Legislature Passes State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Earlier this month, the Connecticut legislature passed the state’s FY2012 budget, which included the governor’s proposal to create a refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit calculated at 30 percent of the federal credit. According to Tax Credits for Working Families, an estimated 190,000 low-income tax filers would be eligible in Connecticut, and the credit would cost the state $108 million in the first year of the two-year budget and $111 million in the second year.

Led by the Connecticut Association for Human Services and other advocates, a broad coalition has fought for several years to create a state EITC. State EITC legislation nearly passed during the 2006, 2007, and 2008 legislative sessions. The credit was included in this year’s budget to ensure that the revenue increases did not unduly burden low- and moderate-income working families.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have a state EITC. The passage of a Connecticut EITC demonstrates that states can enact or expand tax credits for working families even in tight budget times.

Check out Tax Credits for Working Families’ 50-State Resource Map to find information about states’ Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit and other tax credits, as well as news and resources related to states’ efforts to enact these credits.

Visit PolicyForResults for more information about enacting or expanding an EITC in your state and other strategies for reducing child poverty.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Youth in the Adult System

In states across the country children are being charged and sentenced as adults. Some are spending time in adult jails and prisons; some (approximately 2,225) are serving sentences for life without the possibility of parole.

According to the Campaign for Youth Justice:

  • An estimated 200,000 youth are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults every year across the United States.
  • Most of the youth prosecuted in adult court are charged with non-violent offenses.
  • Young people who are kept in the juvenile justice system are less likely to re-offend than young people who are transferred into the adult system.
  • Currently, 40 states permit or require that youth charged as adults be held before they are tried in an adult jail. In some states, if they are convicted, they may be required to serve their entire sentence in an adult jail.
  • On any given day, nearly 7,500 young people are locked up in adult jails.
  • On any given day, more than 3,600 young people are locked up in adult prisons.

Earlier this year, the University of Texas at Austin released a report, Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas. The report provides a comprehensive look at Texas’s methods for dealing with the state’s most serious juvenile offenders. It gathers all available Texas data with respect to juveniles who are transferred to adult criminal court and compares them to the population of juveniles who are retained in the juvenile justice system. The report also compares the significant differences in programming and services for the two populations of juvenile offenders (those who get sent to adult jails and prisons, and those who receive placements in the Texas Youth Commission). The report’s most significant findings about juveniles transferred to the adult system in Texas include:

  • Minimal differences exist between juveniles in the adult criminal justice system and juveniles in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) except for county of conviction.
  • Certified juveniles (those in the adult system) do not represent the “worst of the worst”—they are neither more violent nor more persistent in their criminal behavior than those retained in juvenile court and sent to TYC.
  • While the large majority of certified juveniles have committed violent offenses, only 17% have committed homicide.
  • About 15% of juveniles transferred to adult court are charged with non-violent felonies, including state jail offenses.
  • 72% of certified juveniles do not have a prior violent criminal history,
  • 29% of certified juveniles are first-time offenders.
  • 89% of certified juveniles have never been committed to TYC, indicating that most certified youth have never had the opportunity to benefit from effective rehabilitative programs in the juvenile justice system, such as TYC’s highly regarded Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program, which has a 95% success rate.

When making policy that is so critical to both to the experiences and outcomes for young people and the public safety, it is critical that policymakers weigh all of the research available to inform their decisions.

There are ways to create public policy that best serves both public safety and that increases the likelihood that youth offenders are rehabilitated and have the opportunity to become productive adults. A report, State Trends: Legislative Changes from 2005-2010 Removing Youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System, from the Campaign for Youth Justice examines innovative “smart on crime” strategies that states are using to remove and protect youth in the adult criminal justice system.

There is also a growing body of knowledge around what works in juvenile justice and what doesn’t. In an article, Juvenile Justice: Lessons For A New Era, the authors, Soler, Shoenberg and Schindler, address: the evaluation of juvenile rehabili­tation and treatment programs, differences between adolescents and adults, prosecution of youth in adult criminal court, the needs of girls, use of incarcera­tion and improvement of conditions of juvenile confinement, and racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system. The article includes the authors’ recom­mendations for key changes to juvenile justice policy and practice that should follow from this new body of knowledge.

Visit PolicyforResults for strategies for reducing juvenile detention and visit our homepage to sign-up for e-mail updates on results-based policy regarding strategies for Juvenile Justice - coming soon!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

USDA Unveils New Online Food Desert Locator

Last week, the USDA announced its new Food Desert Locator, an online mapping tool that pinpoints the location of food deserts around the country and provides data on population characteristics of census tracts where residents have limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.

The Food Desert Locator allows users to scan, zoom in on, and search the map, as well as create their own maps showing food desert census tracts. The complete dataset can be downloaded. Additionally, users can view and download statistics on population characteristics—such as the percentage and number of people who have low access to large grocery outlets or the number of "low-access" households without a car—in each tract.

About 10 percent of the 65,000 census tracts in the United States meet the definition of a food desert. These food deserts contain 13.5 million people who have little or no access to sources of healthy, fresh food. The majority of this population—82 percent—live in urban areas.

The USDA also offers Your Food Environmental Atlas, an online tool that allows users to create maps that provide a spatial overview of a community’s ability to access healthy food. County-, state- and regional-level data are available for 168 indicators of the food environment, broken down into indicators of food choices, health and well-being and community characteristics.

For more on food access and its effects on health, see strategies to prevent childhood obesity on PolicyForResults.