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Children Are An Investment
The New York Times reported this week on the apparent increased use of psychotropic medications to help poor children do better in school. In an echo of what we found last year in the foster care system, it appears likely that doctors and parents, recognizing that schools are not going to be able to help their children learn, are turning to medications to improve attention and performance.
The rationale is that if school environments can’t be improved to accommodate the special needs of students, then drug therapy may help students fit into the learning environment that exists.
I understand the dilemma. Children in low-income families are more likely to be distracted and hostile at school. Drugs often used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can moderate these barriers to educational success, at least in the short term.
However, when researchers looked into the high use of psychotropic medications for foster youth, they found that many drugs were being prescribed without a thorough diagnosis. These were often powerful antipsychotics that had not been studied or approved for use in children. One of these drugs was risperidone, also mentioned in the New York Times story this week. Its potential side effects include weight gain, restlessness, sedation, depression, insomnia, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, muscle pain, tremors and photosensitivity.
Scary as those side effects are, so are the “side effects” of school failure. They include lower lifetime earnings, poor general health, reduced life expectancy, teen pregnancy, suicide, depression, and engaging in crime and drug use.
Unfortunately, parents’ dilemmas about their children’s education may only get worse. Estimates are that sequestration, if it happens early next year, will reduce the Department of Education budget by $4 billion. The side effects of that would be huge.
When government spending for education is heading down, what are people who care about children’s success supposed to do? Let’s ask all candidates for public office to stop thinking of children as an expense and start thinking of them as an investment. Perhaps the most important one we could make.
-By National CASA CEO Michael Piraino
Lifting Up Another Child's Life
I came into foster care at the age of 17 by my own decision. I was pregnant and could no longer live with my baby’s father because his mother was demanding money from me that I did not have. My mother had neglected me in the past, and had recently started using drugs again. I had nowhere to go. My only option was to turn to child and family services, which I did.
I was placed in an independent home for teen moms and was living there when the woman who would become my CASA volunteer, Ms. Kristal, came into my life. When I first started getting calls and emails from her, I really did not understand the purpose of CASA. And having dealt with so much already, I was very reluctant to return her calls. But that did not stop her from calling me. When I finally decided to meet her I immediately realized she was only there for my best interest, not to harm me.
Ms. Kristal had this amazing way of helping me do the things I needed to do—to write essays for school, budget, look for a job, apply for internships—and at the same time make sure I was able to do things on my own. She supported me and she empowered me, encouraging me to become my own advocate as I learned about who I was as a person.
Today I am on a positive path. I’ll finish my criminal justice degree in December and am making a good life for my daughter and me. I honestly do not think the things that I have accomplished would have been possible without the help of Ms. Kristal. I am becoming a CASA volunteer because I know from my own experience that foster children need that extra support and guidance, but often do not receive it. I want to be able to give back and help another youth to be successful and achieve his or her goals in life.
In my CASA training this summer, other new volunteers were eager to hear my perspective about being a CASA volunteer, especially about how to engage with the youth. I let them know that it may take time for them to open up, but the most important part is to not give up on a child. I told them to make sure they are ready to make this commitment. Children in foster care have been hurt and abandoned numerous times. Be there because you want to be there to help them along the way, all the way.
Soon I will finish my final year of college. I told CASA DC I would not take a case until after I graduate in December because I know it is important to have time and commitment to devote to my CASA youth. The last thing I would want is for them to feel let down one more time. So when December comes, I will be set and ready to go to inspire a new youth into a better pathway of life!
Our Mission Partners- Thank You!!
The Alabama CASA Network would like to thank the following individuals for their support:
- Karyn Uptain
- Bethany Richardson
- David Doble
- Lana Olson
- Linda Stone
- Laura Hudson
- Lauren Phelps
- Andrea Mixson
- Bryan Olson
- Laura Peck
- Jane Malloch
- Sandra Rumph
- Judy Young
- David Peat
- Liz McCormick
- Barbara Lawrence
- Michael Quillen
- Jessica Burrous
- Dan Gels
- Susan Griffin
- James Earl Finley
- Joe Roth
- Nancy Bush
- Ann Gilbert
- Myron Flemming
- Traci Slaton