Jeremy Olson writes about children and families, and is an overscheduled father of two. His blog tackles the best and worst of parenting, families, health and love. He wants to hear from you - what's going on in your house?
Minnesota lawmakers appear in favor of new state guidelines recommending that home-based child care providers physically check on sleeping infants in their homes every 15 to 30 minutes. This was a compromise from initial legislation that would have made such checks mandatory -- in an effort to curb the recent increase in child deaths in Minnesota's home day cares.
But while this legislation inches closer to passage -- the state House has approved the measure and the Senate appears close to doing so -- at least one national expert doesn't believe it will make a substantial impact. Amie Lapp Payne, a child care consultant in Texas, wrote an influential national study on child care regulations and how they vary state to state.
A recommendation of 15-minute checks might not change much, she said. “If it’s a requirement, then it’s enforceable. If it’s just a recommendation, then it is not enforceable.”
COMMENTS: It is best practice for the caregiver/teacher to remain in the same room as the infants when they are sleeping to provide constant supervision. However in small family child care programs, this may be difficult in practice because the caregiver/teacher is typically alone, and all of the children most likely will not sleep at the same time. In order to provide constant supervision during sleep, caregivers/teachers could consider discontinuing the practice of placing infant(s) in a separate room for sleep, but instead placing the infant’s crib in the area used by the other children so the caregiver/teacher is able to supervise the sleeping infant(s) while caring for the other children. Care must be taken so that placement of cribs in an area used by other children does not encroach upon the minimum usable floor space requirements. Infants do not require a dark and quiet place for sleep. Once they become accustomed, infants are able to sleep without problems in environments with light and noise.
The Urban Institute compared women with children younger than 6 and found higher rates of major depression and untreated depression among those in low-income families, according to results published last week.
Analyzing results from a recent federal survey, the researchers found "that 8.8 percent of all low-income mothers with young children experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, compared with 6.8 percent of higher income mothers." A third of the depressed low-income mothers did not receive any treatment, compared to only a quarter of higher-income mothers.
Rising numbers of two-parent families are homeless in Minnesota, according to new findings from the Wilder Foundation's 2012 count of homeless people in the state. The one-day count last fall of people who were homeless, primarily those in shelters but also in other locations, showed 298 couples with children.
That was only 17 percent of all homeless families last year -- with the majority still being single mothers with kids, according to the Wilder count. But it was an increase from the 245 families identified in the prior Wilder homelessness count in 2009.
"For years, I think there was a perception that most of the families who were homeless were headed by single parents," said Michelle Gerrard, the homeless study co-director. There were often practical reasons. Shelters for abused women, for example, only took in mothers with their kids.
But the increase in two-income families suggests that the 2007-2009 recession has had some lasting impacts and that some families are struggling to rise above them.
"The increase in the two parent families ... could be tied more to recessional indicators like employment," Gerrard said.
Some of the overall findings from the Wilder homelessness count were released in February. But today, the organization released detailed demographic findings about these people and how long they have been without stable housing.
The state has made some small progress in moving chronically homeless singles and veterans into permanent housing, Gerrard said. But compared to 2009, there were more youths and adults in 2012 who had been homeless for at least one year or even three years.
The detailed findings also showed rising rates of homeless youths and adults with diagnosed mental and physical health conditions. The majority of homeless youth and adults also reported some form of abuse or trauma in their pasts. There was little change from 2009 to 2012 in homeless people with jobs. Twenty-four percent of homeless adults in 2012 reported they were employed, which was better than 20 percent in 2009 but considerably lower than 41 percent in 2000.
The Star Tribune's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on deaths in home-based child care actually started because of a shocking report about a licensed day care center. It took Minnesota five years to shut down the Arena Early Learning Center in Brooklyn Center, despite a long list of safety violations.
Our request for child care data following that story in early 2012 is what led us to the disparity in deaths taking place in licensed homes. And it resulted in a dozen or so stories examining the problems such as overcrowding and safe-sleep violations that existed in some of those homes.
But there is an interesting "rest of" story about that shuttered Arena day care center that never got told.
In addition to closing Arena for a long list of safety violations, the Minnesota Department of Human Services determined that the center's director, Antonio Smith, should have no contact with children in care. At the time, the trade group for child care centers called Arena one of the worst in Minnesota.
"We often said, 'Why is this program still open? How could this be possible?" said Chad Dunkley, president of the Minnesota ChildCare Association, in a Star Tribune story early last year.
But the center didn't stay closed for long. Alberta Smith owned two other daycares under the name Atrebla (the reverse of Alberta) in south and north Minneapolis. And she moved the north Minneapolis day-care center directed by Gershon Smith to the old Arena site. (Former employees of the day cares told me that Alberta is mother to Antonio and Gershon.)
The former Arena facility re-opened last summer as Atrebla, and resumed operations as a day-care provider on weekdays, nights and weekends. Such round-the-clock daycare is rare. Parents working night-shifts have told me they are often desperate to find it, regardless of quality.
Problems followed. In a Sept. 4 correction order, the state informed Alberta Smith that her center was being fined for a number of violations -- some similar to those that piled up over time and forced the Arena day care to shut down. There was no documented evidence that three workers were trained in the prevention of shaken baby syndrome. Rooms were understaffed on the weekends. And children as young as two and as old as seven were mixed together -- something that is allowed in family child care but not in centers that are subject to more stringent safety and child development regulations.
More problems were found in an Oct. 8 inspection, but the provider paid the fines and provided documentation that the errors were corrected, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Today, the Atrebla north facility in Brooklyn Center is closed and its doors are locked -- though the Atrebla sign is still up and the inside still appears furnished. The phone for the center is disconnected. I called Alberta Smith to find out what happened and why the center is once again closed. She declined comment and hung up.
The question over how much time, at a minimum, divorcing parents should get with their kids was a hot issue in the 2012 Legislative session. But despite some encouragement from Gov. Mark Dayton at the end of the last session, the issue does not appear to be returning to the legislature this year.
Late last week, custody reform advocate Tom Burke said he doesn't foresee legislation this year that would increase the minimum percentage of time both divorcing parents receive with their kids. Current law determines that divorcing parents in contested cases each get 25 percent of time with their children, and that the rest is negotiated or set by the courts. Some, particularly advocates of father's rights, wanted that changed to 50-50. They argued that a presumption of equal parenting time would help children by eliminating some of the pain and divisiveness of child custody negotiations.
"It's the kids who are getting hurt," Burke said.
The bill that eventually reached the governor's desk last session would have changed the minimum amount to 35 percent. But Dayton vetoed the bill at the end of the session. He was swayed by family law attorneys who said that an increase in presumed time might benefit parents, but it might hurt children who in some cases are better off spending more time with one parent and/or in one home. (The issue only applies to divorce cases in which both parents are deemed safe -- not when one parent has been found abusive or neglectful. And the parenting time figures are just a starting point. Divorcing parents can always negotiate other arrangements.)
In a letter explaining his veto, Dayton encouraged both sides to negotiate and return with legislation that ensures the best outcomes for children of divorces. Burke said he is skeptical of the chances of future legislation, though, because of the strong lobbying influence of Minnesota attorneys who are against changes.
Burke said advocates on both sides of the issue met in January and reached consensus on a number of principles regarding child custody and how it should work. That list was finalized in April, and will serve as a starting point for further talks on custody reforms, he said.
Interestingly, Minnesota's child custody bills from last session have served as the starting points for similar reform efforts this year in other states such as Nebraska. The Florida House and Senate also just passed shared parenting legislation with the following language:
Equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is in the best interest of the child unless the court finds that:
a. The safety, well-being, and physical, mental, and emotional health of the child would be endangered by equal time-sharing, that visitation would be presumed detrimental consistent with s. 39.0139(3), or that supervised visitation is appropriate, if any is appropriate;
b. Clear and convincing evidence of extenuating circumstances justify a departure from equal time-sharing and the court makes written findings justifying the departure from equal time-sharing;
c. A parent is incarcerated;
d. The distance between parental residences makes equal time-sharing impracticable;
e. A parent does not request at least 50-percent time-sharing;
f. A permanent injunction has been entered or is warranted against a parent or household member relating to contact between the subject of the injunction and the parent or household member; or
g. Domestic violence, as defined in s. 741.28, has occurred.
ATTORNEY KURZMAN: With regard to the — this church issue that you bring up and you believe it’s going to be detrimental to [the children] as a result of what’s being taught. Can you actually explain to me what is being taught?SARAH PETERSON: Ah — that the husband is the leader and controller of the family and that the wife has to submit and the kids have to submit to what the father says.ATTORNEY: Okay. And is that some kind of a doctrine or is that out of the Bible or where is the — where do you get that?SARAH: That’s a doctrine out of the Bible.ATTORNEY: Okay.SARAH: That [the] Baptist church believes.ATTORNEY: Except that what you’re—all you’re saying is you’re just restating what the Bible says; is that correct?SARAH: No, that’s not correct.JUDGE MAHLER: I think the Bible does say that.ATTORNEY: Yeah, it does say that. I can get it out.JUDGE: Just for the record, when I got married they said husbands obey your wives.ATTORNEY: I can get it out for you if you don’t believe it.JUDGE: Or wives obey your husbands.SARAH: Right.ATTORNEY: If you were a judge, you could have set that aside.JUDGE: But I don’t profess to read the Bible often enough to know where it is. And after I heard it once, I dismissed it, so.
“The concern is not that the court announced that the passage is in the Bible. It is that, knowing that the doctrine had taken a lead role in the custody trial, the judge revealed her bias by volunteering that in her own marriage she had “dismissed” the doctrine. It would be less troubling if the district court’s consequent decisions were not so intertwined with the religious view. But the custody and parenting-time decisions mirror the judge’s personal disapproval. The decisions favor Sarah, who no longer wanted the children to attend the parties’ church of ten years and be influenced by the doctrine that the district court judge rejected. And they disfavor Adam …We cannot overlook revealed judicial bias simply because it reflects a popular view. Married couples may freely choose how to resolve their disagreements, distributing the decision-making authority on any basis — religious, humanistic, egalitarian, democratic, random, or otherwise — apparently fair or apparently unfair, popular or scorned."