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Adoption Advocate Volume 9; correction to Adoption Tax Credit info of Nov 2008

ncfaNCFA is pleased to announce the release of Adoption Advocate Volume 9 entitled, “The Adoption Option: A Call for Complete and Inclusive Sex, Reproductive Health and Family Life Education Curricula."

Click here to download the newsletter:NCFA Adoption Advocate

Also, please note that there was an error in National Council For Adoption's previous Adoption Advocate, entitled, "Making Improvements to the Adoption Tax Credit Permanent for Children and Families," released in November 2008. In this Adoption Advocate, it was erroneously stated that beginning in 2011, parents will be eligible for a reduced tax credit of $6,000 per adopted child with special needs and $5,000 per adopted child without special needs. In fact, beginning in 2011, parents will be eligible for a reduced tax credit of $6,000 per adopted child with special needs and ineligible for any tax credit for an adopted child without special needs. A corrected version is available here: AdoptionTaxCreditAdopAdvNov08.pdf

Teen Court Joins Child & Family Services

January 5, 2009

cfscaplogoLANSING— Lansing Teen Court has merged with and become a program of Child & Family Services-Capital Area, agency officials announced today.
Teen Court provides juvenile justice diversion services to over 250 youth per year as referred by the Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Circuit Court—Family Division. Youth charged with minor offenses appear before a jury of their peers, who determine how the youth can repair the harm caused to the victim and community, and what services the youth may need to achieve personal success. Once the youth completes the peer jury’s verdict, the court petition is dismissed and the youth does not incur a formal juvenile criminal record.

Teen Court joins an array of programs at Child & Family Services including adoption, foster care, independent living for youth aging out of foster care, family mental health counseling, adolescent substance abuse treatment, and children’s shelter and advocacy center (Angel House). The merger was finalized after several joint meetings and weeks of due diligence.

“We reached out to Child & Family Services because of their long and successful history serving the youth in our community, their talented management team, and the synergies that this merger portends,” said Teen Court Director Mike Botke. “All of our funding and referral sources are strongly supportive of this development.” Jim Paparella, Child & Family Services Executive Director, echoed that sentiment. “Bringing Teen Court under the CFS umbrella is a great fit for both agencies and was enthusiastically approved by our board of directors,” Paparella said. “We see this as a part of broader strategic vision to increase our capacity to serve vulnerable and at-risk populations in the mid-Michigan community.”

Nick Toodzio is Assistant Principal for Mason High School and serves on the advisory board for Teen Court. According to Toodzio, “Teen court provides ownership of our juvenile justice system among our community’s youth by allowing students to train in their classrooms and serve as peer jurors in a genuine courtroom setting. Teen Court provides restoration for our youthful offenders by educating them in street law, restorative justice, service learning, and family connections. These teens learn that the victims of their offenses are not limited to a single business or individual, but affect their families and the community as a whole." Teen Court’s offices will remain in their Cooley Law School location. The merger did not affect any staff changes.

For more information about Child & Family Services or any of the agency’s programs, call Mary Reed at (517) 882-4000 ext. 126.

Click here to download the press release in pdf: CFS Press Release

Troubled children centers closing

Institutions shuttered as state pushes community programs to save money.
Karen Bouffard / The Detroit News
Saturday, December27, 2008

Adrian Training Center will be shuttered Jan. 24 to help close a $540 million shortfall in Michigan's budget -- but the plan also signals the end of an era in how troubled children are treated in the state.

The institution was in operation for nearly 130 years and cost taxpayers $7.8 million annually for the treatment of 31 wayward girls. But in Michigan and nationwide, experts are moving away from institutionalizing children -- a trend that affects not only juvenile delinquents but other children with severe emotional or behavioral problems placed in long-term residential treatment centers, where they often remain for years.

Instead, the state is shifting resources to keep children at home or in foster homes, reflecting today's belief among child welfare experts that institutions are outmoded, expensive and ineffective. But some child advocates say severely ill children cared for in the community often aren't getting the services they need to be successful. And many in law enforcement complain delinquents can be a danger to their communities.

"The whole field nationally is going to less restricted settings, community settings like day treatment where a kid may go to (a regular) school," said John Evan, director of the Bureau of Juvenile Justice within the state Department of Human Services.

Although they are commonly viewed as jails for minors, state-run and privately operated juvenile detention facilities are treatment centers for troubled children, Evans said. The facilities provide the therapy, vocational training, structure and an array of other services to address the root problems that cause children to commit crimes, he said.

The number of children in public or private institutions for delinquents has plummeted from more than 2,500 in 1997 to fewer than 500 this year, state data show. The state no longer can afford expensive residential treatment, Evans said.
When Wayne County took authority over its juvenile justice programs in 2000, it focused on intensive home-based services aimed at keeping children in the community, said Sue Hamilton-Smith, director of Juvenile Justice Services for Wayne County's Department of Children and Family Services. She said less than 10 percent of those who complete treatment in Wayne County's community-based programs will commit a crime again.

"The most effective approach is community-based care and having young people close to their families," Hamilton said. Still, Howell Police Chief George Baser, president of the Michigan Association of Police Chiefs, said that delinquents often commit more crimes when they're placed back in the community.

"We have some juveniles that are very violent, operating in communities, (who) need to be in detention," Baser said. In the case of children not yet in trouble with the law, some in need of residential treatment who don't get it often end up in the juvenile justice system, said Janet Snyder, executive director of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families.

Too much for one person?
The state also is institutionalizing fewer children who are troubled -- kids like the one mentored by Redford Township foster mom Judy Bradley-Parsons.

A ward of the state since age 2, the boy went though a succession of foster homes and a failed adoption before the state Department of Human Services placed him in a private residential treatment center when he was 4. He's been institutionalized for the past six years, but visits Bradley-Parsons' home on holidays and occasional weekends.

"His needs are so great one person could not possibly take care of him," Bradley-Parsons said of the child, who suffers from extreme hyperactivity, psychosis and severe behavioral problems.

Many private institutions for children with mental, emotional or behavioral problems say they are getting fewer referrals from the state to treat foster children or kids who have been abused or neglected. The 172-year-old Children's Home of Detroit blamed the decline in state referrals for the decision to close down last month. "The problem we've seen is that even in cases where there is a demonstrated need for the kind of intense treatment residential allows, there is a reluctance to use it," said Barbara MacKenzie, regional director for Lutheran Child and Family Service in Metro Detroit.

"They either receive no services at all, they end up on the street, they end up in foster placements that are no good for them, or they end up in the juvenile justice system, which is hugely more expensive," Snyder said.

But state officials say children with such problems can succeed in a family or a foster home if support services -- like intensive outpatient therapy and family counseling -- are made available.

"We ... want to keep kids in community settings if at all possible," said Mary Chaliman, manager of the state Department of Human Services Foster Care Office. "We don't want kids growing up in residential treatment centers."

Cost for residential care high
Residential treatment is expensive, and some child advocates argue that with few exceptions, the money could be better spent providing intense monitoring and services to children in their own homes and communities.

"At a time when Michigan has to spend every dollar they can get on what works, it's a shame to throw money away," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "There's no magic to putting them behind a fence in an institution. When you provide the birth parents or the foster parents with all the help they need, they do fine."

The state pays privately run institutions a per diem rate that can range from $132 to $175 or more per child. Michigan's state-run centers for juvenile delinquents are much more expensive.

It costs roughly $560 per day to treat a child at the W.J. Maxey Training School in Whitmore Lake, which has a $17 million annual budget but just 59 boys in residence, according to Evans. Likewise, fewer than 40 kids remain at Bay Pines, Nokomis Challenge Center and Shawono Center -- which each cost $4 million to $4.5 million annually to keep open.

The kids who remain at state-run juvenile facilities are the most serious juvenile offenders, Evans noted. Experts say private facilities, whether they treat delinquents or children who are troubled, need to retool their programs to catch up with changing trends. Some in Michigan already are.

Lutheran Child and Family Service is exploring how better to use its campus at Boys and Girls Republic, its 80-bed residential treatment center for abused and neglected kids in Farmington Hills, since many of its beds are empty, MacKenzie said. And Camp Highfields in Onondaga has shortened its program for juvenile delinquents to roughly six to eight months.

Strangers reach out to Christ Child

Boys' home gets donors, volunteers

Thursday, December 25, 2008

By ROBIN ERB
Free Press Staff Writer

At Christ Child House, the Christmas spirit arrived in old boxes and garbage bags.

It piled up in the hallways of the residential home for boys, spilled into offices and clogged up phone lines -- nudged along by folks like Aileen Lema, a beautician who made some phone calls to shoe stores. Lema's customers who reached into wallets. And her coworkers who dipped into their tip jars. And the kid at the shoe store unloaded boxes of shoes for a woman he'd never met for boys he'd never see.

Donations and offers to volunteer have flooded Christ Child, which houses 31 boys in Michigan's foster system. It began soon after people learned of the work at Christ Child through the Free Press and freep.com. Donations began arriving -- from toothbrushes to toys, and offers of lessons in art, cuisine, woodworking and even archery.

Then there was Lema, who works at Joli Salon in St. Clair Shores.

"This lady called and said 'I want shoe sizes for the kids,' and I gave her a few and she said 'No, all the kids,' " said John Yablonky, executive director of Christ Child.

Such generosity takes on a special meaning in such difficult times, said Joe Bourgoin , a retiree who comes to Lema for regular haircuts. Overhearing her on the phone with a shoe store, he pulled out $20 to help. It was the first of many offerings that bought the 32 pairs of Starbury II shoes delivered to Christ Child boys 48 hours after Lema first called.

As for Lema, she dismisses her own charity as a bit of money and a few phone calls.

"You wonder what happens if everybody just did a little something," she said, laughing. "Well, now we know."

Christmas now a wonderful time for former Christ Child boy

Thursday, December 25, 2008
By ROBIN ERB
Free Press Staff Writer

The best Christmas presents don't come wrapped in silvery paper and bows.

In the case of Arius Hogans, his was cobbled together by circumstance and tenacity, then packaged in a two-story home in Harper Woods. It's just what he wished for -- well, except for the snow shoveling or his recent compromise with his new dad over his birthday tattoo.

"Yeah, I like it here," the 16-year-old said, the family poodle Dymond popping into his face and pulling at his clothes. "It's good to have a younger brother, too."

This will be his first Christmas as a permanent member of his adoptive family.

Permanence. It's what Arius craved during his eight years in Michigan's foster care system, time mostly spent as one of Michigan's approximate 6,000 legal orphans. They're kids who have been legally severed from their parents by the courts -- their moms and dads deemed abusive, neglectful or unfit to care for them.

Arius's mother, a state ward herself, was just 16 when she started having babies. By 1999, the state decided she could no longer care for them.

So the boy was raised by the system, growing up at Christ Child, a sort of modern-day orphanage on Detroit's west side the Free Press spent almost three years chronicling. There, 31 boys -- many of them emotionally impaired -- live together as they wait to be reunified with their families or adopted by others.

Even in a place when the staff is quick to offer hugs and high-fives, it's a tough place to call home. That's especially true during the holidays, when ubiquitous images of family underscore for the boys the loss of their own.

"It's the most critical period in the year and the most emotional," said Christ Child's executive director John Yablonky. "Our kids have a difficult time."

In 2007, after at least a couple of failed adoptions, Arius was the resident who had spent the most time at Christ Child -- seven years. It appeared he would join the approximately 500 legal orphans who age out of Michigan's foster care system each year without parents. They have no one to turn to with questions that range from basic to life-changing and they face daunting odds of being homeless, addicted, or imprisoned.

Enter Jessie-Mae Secord.

A caseworker for Wendy's Wonderful Kids, her job was to sift through Arius' 4-inch thick state file, trying to glean from its court filings and scribbled notes a permanent relationship for a kid who would one day would be on his own. It didn't take long before her eyes fell on the name of Camyra Hogans, and a notation that this older sister of Arius had gone to live with her father, Toriano Spencer.

Secord's next step was neither high-tech nor miraculous. She simply opened the phone book.

Catrina Tooks, Spencer's wife, answered the phone at the couple's Harper Woods home. Stunned by Secord's call, she nonetheless had news of her own: The couple -- already with five biological and adopted children -- had found Arius on a state-wide adoption site and had been considering contacting him.

A few days later -- Camyra's 17th birthday, in fact -- the two siblings met for the first time.

What they talked about, neither can recall. "I think we were both nervous," Camyra, now 18, laughed.

Within weeks, Arius was staying with the family for weekends -- and then weeks at a time. The adoption ceremony, short and informal, occurred in May.

And the Tooks-Spencer clan swelled again.

In addition to Camyra and Arius, there's also Toriano Spencer Jr., 17, a child by his father's previous relationship; Toriano (Torrey) II, 8, a boy born to Spencer and Tooks, and Anthony Tooks, 14, another child they adopted.

The couple also are now caring for a 9-year-old foster child who may one day return to her birth mother.

It's a house that can be filled with chaos and noise -- cell phones ringing and teens bickering -- and love all at the same time.

"I remember being at my grandmother's house growing up with all my cousins and aunts and uncles and everyone, and she was cooking and everyone was talking," Spencer said. "I can't imagine how anyone can go without that."

And Arius: He sums it up simply with a grin: "Oh, I'm staying."

Contact ROBIN ERB at 313-222-2708 or rerb@freepress.com

WINNER: Nonprofit

From Crain's Detroit Business
By Nancy Kaffer

camhosnerCameron Hosner
Vista Maria
Dearborn Heights

The folks at Vista Maria think big.

“Our mission has always been to serve the most disadvantaged young girls, women and children in the greater Detroit area,” said Cameron Hosner, who has served as executive director of the nonprofit since 1997. “In staying true to that historic mission, we looked at the needs of the 21st century women and children and identified some very critical issues that were emerging.”

Founded in 1883 by the Sisters of the Good Shepard, Vista Maria has been in Dearborn Heights since 1942. In 2007, the agency's revenue was $18 million.

It isn't enough, Hosner said, to treat symptoms. Many of Vista Maria's clients have experienced profound trauma from physical or sexual abuse, he said, and have post-traumatic problems similar to the type developed by combat veterans. Some clients have substance-abuse issues. Some have learning disabilities. Many come from generations of poverty.

To treat the whole person, he said, it is necessary to offer a full continuum of services for the agency's girls and women. And to get the funds to help Vista Maria's clients, it's necessary to have a solid business plan, a proven track record of wise stewardship and the support of the community.

That's where thinking like an entrepreneur comes in.

Last year, the agency launched a five-year initiative, dubbed “Village of Hope,” with the goal of implementing a full array of services and programs. Those include schooling and job training, supplemented by child care that enables the agency's clients to take advantage of those offerings, behavioral health services including substance abuse therapy, and schools that meet the needs of learning disabled students. The initiative is meant to enable clients to break the generational cycles of poverty.

Only by offering comprehensive services, Hosner said, can Vista Maria help its clients make a permanent change in circumstance.

The agency has been able to leverage its track record of success to rally support for the new initiative.

Recent successes include transforming the agency's school into a charter school that clients can continue to attend after exiting the agency, the implementation of a behavioral support program that cut use of restraints by 25 percent and instances of girls harming themselves by 75 percent, the addition of a second, co-educational school, and the launch of a foster care support program that's had documented success in placing kids in long-term residential situations.

The new initiative, Hosner said, is “a cost-effective model that's leveraging off current assets — we've got a charter school, food service, health service ... we have all the assets, we're just leveraging them.”

“(Many clients) didn't have the assets that enabled them to fully sustain gains enabled in treatment,” he said. “In terms of long-term recovery, the statistics were pretty appalling. Fifteen percent of girls and 25 percent of boys end up with some form of criminal justice involvement. Fifty percent of girls would have an episode of homelessness. The most frequent job is fast food. Four years out for girls, 50 percent will have a child, and only 50 percent will finish high school. We need a comprehensive menu that allows them to come all the way out of the dark. We don't want to just give them a flashlight.”

Special Report by Detroit Free Press profiling Christ Child House

By ROBIN ERB - Free Press Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Click here to view the online articles/links: Christ Child House: Where children find hope

They come to heal. They come with hope. They come to Christ Child House looking for the love that should come from family.

The nondescript, gray home on Detroit's west side is part orphanage and part therapeutic home to 31 boys who have already exhausted a string of foster homes. More than half the boys are legal orphans, their parents' rights terminated because of neglect, abandonment or abuse.

They represent but a sliver of the more than 6,000 legal orphans in Michigan waiting to find a home and a family.

For three years, beginning with the work of photographer Kathleen Galligan, the Detroit Free Press followed the lives of Devonta, Kevin, James and many others in a world the public rarely sees. It was an effort to let their faces, their stories, shine in the light rather than remain out of view, hidden by a curtain of privacy that aims to protect them but that also can obscure awareness of the great needs of our state's foster kids.

Christ Child's most lasting legacy is the work it does with the boys, says Bill Johnson, head of the Department of Human Services division that has legal custody of the state's permanent wards. Over the last five years, people have adopted a dozen boys from Christ Child -- an impressive record, he says.

Free Press staffers have watched these boys bicker over video games, blow out birthday candles, cheer the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, learn to cope and learn to give their first measure of trust. A couple of them earned their first paychecks last summer, hurtling toward adulthood and hoping to find someone to call Mom or Dad.

The boys at Christ Child have their struggles. Many have learning disabilities. Many can't manage their anger. Some carry scars from physical abuse.

It is the job of the staff and volunteers to sort out their pasts and to help them prepare for a new home -- if one can be found.

Click here to view the online articles/links: Christ Child House: Where children find hope

Kids get a home -- forever; Adoption Day makes siblings' new families official

by Stephanie Esters | Kalamazoo Gazette
Wednesday November 26, 2008
bethanylogoKALAMAZOO -- Kalamazoo County Circuit Judge Stephen Gorsalitz suggested that Barbara Barrett write a book on time-management since she so adeptly runs a household with 10 children under the age of 16, eight of whom have special needs.

Barrett and her brood -- her four birth children, four other children she adopted years ago and the four she and her husband adopted Tuesday -- sat before Gorsalitz as he presided over the 9th Judicial Circuit Court's Adoption Day.

"It's kind of like a well-oiled machine," Gorsalitz said Tuesday after listening to Barbara Barrett describe her family as one designing an artistic masterpiece. "We need more families that have your (enthusiasm) and love and that are able to get that trust going with these kids."

Barrett and her husband, Jerry, sat at a courtroom table with Zoe, 3; Emily, 2; Samantha, 8; and 5-year-old Sebastian, nicknamed "Bash," the newest young people to join their family. Celebrating the day were their other eight children, who sat in the jury box, and other relatives sprinkled throughout the courtroom.

Jerry Barrett, who has nine siblings of his own, said he was less-than-enthusiastic about adopting. But, he said, he has grown to understand that everyone wants to "belong" somewhere, someplace.

"That's hard to do in our world, our society," he said. "That's a sad state of affair, and I'm so glad that the kids have shown that they feel like they belong to Barb and me." After the ceremony, the newest little Barretts shared what they day meant to them. Bash and Sam said they were excited by the day.

"I'm adopted," Sam said. That means "that we get to live here" at the Barretts' Mattawan home, permanently, he said.

Even though Tuesday was a happy occasion, Brad Keller, head of the Kalamazoo Branch of Bethany Christian Services, noted that more foster and adoptive homes are needed.

More than 4,000 children in Michigan are waiting to be adopted, he said. Many of the children are either part of sibling sets that agencies desire to place together, members of ethnic minority groups, or are children with special needs.

Also officially united on Michigan Adoption Day were siblings Desiree, 13; Shalonda, 12; Ansel, 11; and Faith, 5. They were adopted by the family headed by Denise Yancey, a single woman living in Kalamazoo. Yancey is already the mother to another adopted son, Curtis Ray, 16.

"It's been a long time," said Denise Yancey, who'd had the four siblings in her home twice in the past two years. "I'm so happy. I'm blessed by God to have these children placed in my care."

Desiree said she and her siblings spent a lot of time in foster care and that Tuesday's adoption signaled a new era for her.

"This day means a lot in that I have a new home that I'm safe in, that I feel loved and that I'm just safe and secure," the eighth-grader said. "I'm happy where I am and that I wouldn't choose to be anywhere else."

Timeeko Churchwell, a friend of the family, attended the ceremony to offer his support. A single father from Kalamazoo, he adopted a 2-year-old boy seven years ago. He also is also the biological father of a 5-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son.

"It's always a pleasure to see parents like her step up and take on other people's kids," Churchwell said.

PGA TOUR announces 2008 Charity of the Year

The PGA TOUR announced Wednesday that Whaley Children's Center has been named the 2008 PGA TOUR Charity of the Year.

pgatourlogowhaleylogoWhaley Children's Center serves abused and neglected children throughout the State of Michigan between the ages of 5 and 17. The Center teaches the children how to succeed as individuals, by providing continuity of care across all programs and supporting them with the resources so they can reach their potential. They provide a continuum of services to meet the social, emotional, ethical and academic needs of children and families. They encourage children and family relationships through support service, community education and advocacy.

"Congratulations to the Whaley Children's Center for being named the PGA TOUR Charity of the Year," said Tim Finchem, PGA TOUR commissioner. "The Whaley Children's Center provides many services and a nurturing environment for children in the Flint area, and is a worthy recipient of this award."

As the recipient as the 2008 PGA TOUR Charity of the Year, Whaley Children's Center will receive $30,000 towards its recreation program in 2009.

The Whaley Children's Center assists the Buick Open each year, operating the tournament's "will call" office.

"The Buick Open is proud to honor the Whaley Children's Center as the PGA TOUR Charity of the Year," said Buick Open tournament director Robb Grainger. "More importantly, it shines a light on the role and importance the Whaley Children's Center plays in assisting children in need in the Flint Community."

The Buick Open, Michigan's only PGA TOUR event, is annually played at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc Township south of Flint, the city where Buick was headquartered between 1903 and 1998. Besides stimulating the southeast Michigan economy and helping Buick market its new models, the Buick Open generates millions of dollars for charities. Many of the charitable organizations in turn provide volunteer help by handling such activities as transportation and ticket sales.

For more information on the Whaley Children's Center, go to whaleychildren.org.

To Restore Economic Health, Congress Must Put Children First

To Restore Economic Health, Congress Must Put Children First

November 20, 2008, 12:00 a.m.
By Colin L. Powell
Special to Roll Call

When the 111th Congress convenes in January, it will be faced with the most challenging agenda in recent history. Members of Congress will confront record budget deficits, pressing domestic and international issues, and follow-up to the financial rescue and stimulus packages. These challenges have shaken our country to its core and caused our leaders to sail into uncharted territory.

Congress’ first priority will be revitalizing the economy. That’s as it should be. The signs are unambiguous that our nation is in recession, just as our national debt is now well over $10 trillion and the current fiscal year threatens to add as much as $1 trillion more in red ink. But revitalizing our economy requires making sound investments. And our children are the most sound investment of all.

We don’t hear much about America’s children in our national economic debate.
But they are intricately connected to the dire economic consequences we face
as a nation — and their well-being must be a critical part of the solution.

Today in America there are more than 13 million children living in poverty
and 8 million without health insurance. We have the second highest infant
mortality rate among industrialized nations. And for the first time in
history, a majority of voting Americans believes the next generation will
fare worse than their parents. These are terrifying statistics for a country
looking to regain its leading position in the global economy.

Nowhere is the failure to invest in our children more evident than in our
nation’s dismal high school graduation rate. In the time it takes to read
this, several more U.S. teenagers will drop out of high school. A staggering
1.2 million students drop out each year — that’s 7,000 per school day, and
one every 26 seconds. For young people of color, the statistics are even
more startling. Only about 58 percent of Hispanic students and 55 percent of
African-American students will graduate on time with a regular diploma,
according to EPE Research Center (2008).

Many say these figures represent a dropout crisis. But when we consider the
impact they have on our young people, our families, our communities and our
country, it becomes clear that we face more than a crisis. We have a
catastrophe.

Students who drop out are more likely to be incarcerated, to rely on public
programs and social services and to go without health insurance than their
fellow students who graduate. This issue affects us all, and we pay an
enormous price tag. According to Alliance for Excellent Education, if the
students who dropped out of the class of 2008 had graduated, the nation’s
economy would have benefited from an additional $319 billion in income over
their lifetimes. Losing more than 1 million students each year weakens our
long-term ability to compete in the global marketplace.

When our children are not prepared for success, we are not only failing
them, but also our nation. An educated work force is the foundation of a
strong and vibrant economy. And without skilled workers, our military,
national security infrastructure, and intelligence systems are in jeopardy.

The need for a skilled and educated work force is even more pronounced as we
face a massive demographic shift. The first of the baby boomers have already
retired, and another 77 million will soon follow. Our economic future will
require that we rely on today’s younger generations for human capital. Yet,
of the 40 percent of today’s high school graduates who start college, nearly
3 in 10 are immediately placed into a remedial reading, writing or math
course because they did not arrive college-ready.

We need our young people to not only stay in school, but also to graduate,
be college-ready when they enroll in post-secondary education, and enter the
work force with the foundation they need to compete in a global economy. We
need to both raise our expectations for what students must know and recruit
and retain more effective teachers so that students can reach
internationally competitive standards.

Put simply, to move forward as a nation, the 111th Congress must put our
children first. This means taking a fresh look at our priorities and
ensuring that all children have quality health care, an excellent education
and the necessary services to help lift them out of poverty. It means
acknowledging that the economic slowdown profoundly affects children, and
offering solutions that enable working families to keep their jobs, stay in
their homes and prepare children for college, work and life. It means
raising awareness of children’s issues and sending a message that our
economic future depends on our commitment to investing in our children.

In 1997, I founded America’s Promise Alliance, which my wife, Alma, now
chairs. A partnership of nearly 250 organizations, the alliance works to
ensure that our young people have the wraparound supports they need to stay
in school and succeed. Through the work of our partners, children receive
basic resources — or what we call the Five Promises — caring adults, safe
places, a healthy start, an effective education and opportunities to help
others

Research shows that when children receive at least four of the Five
Promises, they are twice as likely to receive A’s in school, twice as likely
to avoid violence, and 40 percent more likely to volunteer in their
community.

Over the next two years, the America’s Promise Alliance will sponsor more
than 100 Dropout Prevention Summits in all 50 states and an additional 55
major cities. With support from State Farm and others, these summits will
bring together mayors and governors, business leaders, school
administrators, teachers, parents and students, to develop and implement
action plans to rejuvenate underperforming schools, and reverse graduation
rates that routinely fall below 60 percent. Through initiatives like this —
combining resources and working across sectors — we can begin to make a
profound impact on the future of this country. But we cannot do this alone.
Elected officials need to provide real solutions to the real problems our
children face every day.

It is often said that America can weather any economic storm because of the
strength, skill and creativity of the work force. I believe this to be true.
But with upward of 80 percent of 21st-century jobs requiring some level of
post-secondary education, we can weather the storm only if our children
receive the support they need to stay in school and succeed in life.

There is no doubt that the new Congress will have more pressing issues on
its plate than ever before. We know that resources are limited, and that
means we must make wise investments. I believe an investment in our economic
future begins with a promise to our children. With high school graduation
being a fundamental and leading indicator of success, every Member of
Congress, every business leader, and indeed every American must promise to
make sure our children are placed on a safe and healthy path that allows
them to stay in school and thrive. It is a promise we can’t afford to break.

Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell served as the 65th secretary of State and as
the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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