I was impressed with the tenacity and commitment of Indiana’s foster and adoptive parents in the face of this state’s mean spirited children’s politics.
The evening before my talk I listened to story after story of the “fluid” nature of Department of Child Services policy, families not being allowed to question decisions or policy for fear of being blackballed, and what it’s like to watch long established, workable policies disappear to be replaced by whimsy and bullying.
Many families voiced that they were not allowed to get together and hold foster/adoption discussions without DCS present. This sounds like a constitutional violation of free speech to me (if you know an attorney, i think it is a fair question, or call Bob Olson, 651-690-3494)
On Saturday morning, at the end of my talk, there were more written questions than we could respond to, but it was perfectly clear that almost everyone had strong feelings about Indiana’s public policy about abused and neglected children being based on political ideology.
The State of Indiana today feels it a better investment to pay $75/day per inmate in its prison system than to pay foster families any more than $18/ day support fees for its children.
It is hard to feed a child for $18/ day and anything extra becomes a real burden to most Hoosier families. Is this what we think of children in America? Not my America.
Dear Indiana legislators, please recognize that most adoptive and foster families don’t come from the top one percent (see Wall Street Protesting).
I found it difficult to believe that the state’s newborn screening fund, collected from birth fees paid by parents, has been captured by the governor & directed back into the general fund instead of providing services and supplies for infants with birth disorders?
How cold and cruel are your state legislators?
How could Indiana retroactively terminate adoption subsidies to the five hundred families that adopted special needs children based on the promise that they would have assistance for their special needs children?
Ethically and economically, these are terrible decisions that will cost Indiana children & citizens for many years to come.
Before these cuts Indiana Ranked almost last, 49th out of the 50 states in not supporting child welfare, 37th in child mortality, 47th in juvenile incarceration, 32nd in child death from ages 1 to 14, & 33rd In births to teen moms (As listed by Child Well Being, Geography Matters).
We are the people that once were the middle class, now being pounded on to make this nation work and bring it back to where it can be a friendly, safe place to live.
We know that healthy children become healthy citizens and that every cost benefit analysis shows conclusively that subsidizing healthy children is a far better investment than subsidizing malls or prisons.
It’s not only the ethical & right thing to do, it is the most economically sound, ethical, and right thing to do.
Thank you Indiana foster & adoption families for your commitment to the weakest and most vulnerable among us.
The tide will turn as the community wakes up to these serious & costly injustices to bring back a more child friendly public policy for Hoosier children.
Support the Indiana Foster Care & Adoption Association in its efforts to bring Change to Indiana
Pass this on – written speech below –
Good morning, It is great to be here,
Speaking for abused and neglected children is one of the most important things that I do.
Spreading critical information to raise awareness is a big first step in bring change to a troubled system.
Abused and neglected Children have no voice in the homes they are raised in, the courts that rule their lives, or the justice system that so many of them spend the rest of their days trying to Stay out of.
Children are not able to object when politicians use children’s issues as a political football.
Did you know that social workers are trained not To Speak about child protection issues outside of their work day, and it appears that no one is allowed to criticize Indiana DCS.
No one talked or wrote about the 4 year old girl I visited in the suicide ward at Fairview hospital or her 7 year old sister with a vocabulary of fifty words that was kicked so hard by her 200 pound sex abuser that she went into convulsions.
After 12 years as an active volunteer GAL I’ve come to know hundreds of at risk children, adoptive & foster parents, teachers, social & healthcare workers, judges & juvenile justice workers.
I’ve met allot of great people trying hard to improve the lives of at risk children with little help, few resources, & almost no appreciation. Individually, we can feel overwhelmed by a cold system – I believe that together we can have an impact and bring the badly need change to how at risk children are treated in this state.
Abused and neglected children have no lobby, the media doesn’t understand them, and our own community and politicians don’t seem to care about their needs.
This lack of awareness is why the people, programs, and policies that could make a difference in their lives go unfunded WHILE the jails continue to fill, schools to fail, & communities to suffer.
We here in this room, can explain to our friends, our networks, politicians & media, our stories and the economic and social costs of bad public policy.
Nothing was made public about the 4 year old boy who was removed from his perfectly fine foster home by a judge and sent to live with the man who had a court order to stay away from young boys because of what he did to them.
Andy was tied to a bed, sexually abused, beaten, starved, and left alone for days at a time for four years before child protection services intervened in his life; only after a teacher reported his full body bruises.
He is still my friend 15 years later… he has AIDS and never received the mental health services that could have helped him lead a normal life.
The judge that gave Andy back to his father thought he was saving the county foster care money when in reality, Andy has gone on to cost the county millions of dollars in institutionalization and mental health services,
Not counting the pain and suffering HE has brought to so many of the people that have come into his life
OR THE FACT THAT ANDY WILL CONTINUE TO BE A SIGNIFICAN COST TO THE COUNTY AS LONG AS HE LIVES.
So not only was this a huge ethical and perhaps criminal failure on the part of my counties child protection system, it would have saved the state millions of dollars to treat the boy fairly. If more politicians understood this, children would be safer & counties more prosperous.
We are all mixed up when we think we’re saving money by not providing children with help and better options while they are still young.
America’s institutions are now creating exactly the opposite of what they were designed for and we are all suffering because of it.
Friends, this is a civil rights issue and a communications issue.
These children cannot speak for themselves AND WE MUST SPEAK FOR THEM… that’s why I’m here today.
IT IS Because Social workers are trained to not speak of child protection outside of their work-day That,
No one knows about MY CLIENT, the prostituted 7 year old who was left with her drug addicted prostitute mother even after 48 police calls to her home, or what the juvenile officer on the case said to me when I asked why.
Because there are no beat reporters at the Newspapers due to budget cuts, NO ONE understood why the 18 month old baby girl drowned in the bathtub after 11 police calls to her home… several reporters called me for an explanation, but the media went on to blame the social workers instead of our understaffed and under-resourced child protection system that I had spoken of.
A few months ago when a MN teenager stole the family car and drove to Iowa and pointlessly murdered two clerks… his mother was crucified in the press even though she had spent ten years trying to get her SON mental health care with no luck.
Instead of concentrating on the people, programs, and policies that would make these horrible events less likely to happen we attack the caregivers & the people doing the work while politicians make political hay blaming teachers, SOCIAL WORKERS, and the VERY institutions they are SUPPOSTED TO BE SUPPORTING.
Rather than openly discussing the issues seeking better answers, we are all caught up in blaming the people doing the work & making children’s lives and our communities more dangerous and unhappy.
Today there’s a new mental health center in Red Lake MN; but it was not there the day Jeff Weiss wrote about suicide and homicide and how his mother wished he’d never been born, or how the Prozac made him crazy just a few days before he murdered his grandfather and fourteen others and took his own life.
He too had been asking for help for a long time. The center was built in response to Jeff’s tragedy just months after the violence occurred. The community agreed completely that the NEW MENTAL HEALTH center was necessary and had no trouble finding the money to build it.
Most of us in this room know what needs to change but we don’t know how to make change happen. We are so busy providing care and safety to children that there just doesn’t seem to time for anything else and we don’t feel that individually we can make a big difference in public policy.
We all experience how frustrating it is — to be a part of or work with underfunded programs AND overworked service providers. We are afraid of speaking out for fear of being blacklisted by a harsh and unfair system that changes its policies based on the current administrations political ideology.
This is not fair to children, nor is it fair to the families that raise them.
The media’s confusion, politicians dis-interest, and public apathy is why there is a lack of funding and support for early childhood programs, reasonable foster care rates, day care, & mental health SERVICES for children.
Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I believe that it is this basic MISUNDERSTANDING that explains why millions of America’s non-birth family caregivers get so little support for the serious problems facing the children they care for.
What should be a central theme of media concentration & public policy discussion INSTEAD is printed IN the back pages of the newspaper until a baby is found beaten to death and then RATHER THAN SUPPORTING programs that would lessen the potential for that act to be repeated, we blame social workers and build one more jail cell.
MN’s PREVIOUS governor TIM PAWLENTY has stated that, “children that are the victims of failed personal responsibility are not my problem nor are they the problem of the state of MN”
Wording much like this is part of his political party’s public policy platform. There should be no question as to which party is trying to dissolve the safety net for children in this nation.
Compared to the rest of the industrialized world, those 23 other nations with 200 year old democracies and solid infrastructures, America has fallen behind in almost all the quality of life indices for children these past 20 years.
A number of U.S. states are now comparable to third world nations in teen deaths, child mortality, child poverty and juvenile incarceration. We now lead the whole world in juvenile crime & sexually transmitted diseases among our youth.
Federally, the “Imminent Harm Doctrine” is the only law that protects children in America. This statute allows children whose lives are in imminent danger to be removed from a home. Because of this, children spend far too long in abusive and neglectful homes without services or a chance to escape.
WE NEED TO DO MORE TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE AND DEPRIVATION.
The World Health Organization defines torture as extended exposure to violence and deprivation.
Too many children in America live for years in abusive homes and suffer from extended exposure to violence and deprivation. We are just now beginning to fully understand the life-long consequences of child abuse. Did you know that;
Children in the child protection system suffer from post-traumatic stress at twice the rate soldiers returning from Iraq do.
MN Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz has stated that 90% of the youth in juvenile justice have passed through child protection in MN.
Nationally, 50 to 75% of the youth in juvenile justice suffer from diagnosable mental illness & that fully half of that number have multiple, chronic, and serious diagnosis.
Almost all adult felons have passed through juvenile justice .
The reason I talk about this is that Marion Wright Edelman Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, has been telling us for years that the majority of At Risk Children are in a pipeline to prison.
Few of us know how serious this is;
80% of youth aging out of foster care are leading dysfunctional lives.
As far as guns & getting shot; it’s safer to be an on duty cop in America than it is a teenager.
I am convinced our citizens and politicians simply don’t understand the depth and scope of the problem, nor the economic and social consequences of not supporting early childhood programs, daycare, and early learning.
We, who work with, live with and love at risk children must become empowered to be a voice for children if change is going to happen.
We must learn to speak with a clear and unified voice to represent the children that have no voice.
Until we understand and bring voice to the problems of abused & neglected children, the media will continue to blame social workers when a baby is found in a dumpster, jail & prison cells will be built instead of classrooms & our communities will remain high crime areas.
In a move much like just happened under past Governor Pawlenty in MN, your Governor has cut over a hundred million dollars from child services and diverted the money to pay bonuses to state workers that slashed programs.
20 million dollars was taken from the Healthy Families Program leaving over 4400 first time parents of at risk children without support services; A PROGRAM PROVEN TO BE 95% EFFECTIVE IN HELPING NEW PARENTS SUCCEED.
Thousands of Hoosier children will not be receiving mental health or addiction services, abused and neglected children will be left in the home without treatment or counseling and reducing education spending by more than 300 million dollars leaves many kindergarten classes at 1/2 day and INDIANA schools will continue to struggle for the most basic necessities.
How could the Indiana’s state newborn screening fund, collected from birth fees paid by parents, be directed back into the general fund instead of providing services and supplies for infants with birth disorders?
How could Indiana retroactively Terminate adoption subsidies to the 500 families that adopted special needs children based on the promise that they would have assistance for their special needs children?
Ethically and Economically these are terrible decisions that will cost Indiana children & citizens for many years to come.
Before these cuts Indiana Ranked almost last, 49th out of the 50 states in not supporting child welfare, 37th in child mortality, 47th in juvenile incarceration, 32nd in child death from ages 1 to 14, & 33rd In births to teen moms (As listed by Child Well Being, Geography Matter).
The U.S. Federal Reserve bank, under Art Rolnick IN MN, studied the economics of early learning and proved that the return on investment for early childhood programs are far better than subsidizing real estate or businesses (or giving bonuses to state workers for cutting needed programs).
There is no question that early childhood programs provide counties, cities, and states real savings and healthier citizens.
So why was one of my last official duties as a GAL was to remove 4 young children from a father who was guilty of nothing other than not being able to afford day care? Because our last governor redirected those dedicated funds back into the general fund.
WHICH MADE SUBSIDIZED DAYCARE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO OBTAIN IN MN.
Did my state think it was saving money by forcing these children into foster homes rather than helping a poor working man pay for day care?
I’m a businessman; I’ve run the numbers and it costs way more money to take children out of the home and place them in foster homes than it does to help dad with day care payments, and it makes the families lives broken and miserable.
This was just like the false savings the judge thought would come from taking Andy out of a perfectly fine foster home & giving him to his criminally abusive father & WHAT REALLY HAPPENED DESTROYED THE BOY & COST THE COUNTY MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.
It’s not only morally reprehensible and the wrong thing to do, it is the most expensive, morally reprehensible and wrong thing to do.
Our institutions are now creating exactly the opposite of what they were designed to create.
Before I leave this slide, I would like to draw your attention to the resource websites listed and say a few words about them;
(Adoptees Have Answers) a national program with terrific model in MN… worth study and consideration; Involves the youth & families in powerful networks and programs & communication. Wonderful people & a powerful program for adoptive and foster families.
(Academy on Violence & Abuse) founded by an emergency room doctor who recognized that most of his emergency room patients had been abused children. Dr. Bruce Perry Study; 25% of Americans to be special needs people by the end of this generation…
www.invisiblechildren.org KARA Kids At Risk Action (KARA) public advocacy for abused and neglected children.
Your networking connection to Indiana Foster and Adoption resources.
www.ifcaa.org Is Your organization…, join it.
Please raise your voices and become a member of the Indiana Foster care & Adoption Association
Use these resources to find information and to get our message out. Tell your friends and circles of influence that you need their support & share this information with them. By all means communicate between conferences.
NOTE; You will find source material for what I have said here today both at the invisiblechildren.org blog and also in the INVISIBLECHILDREN book that you can download for free on the website, or borrow one of the copies I have provided for my talk today.
(Transition; 2 slides), Mental health,
like it’s meant to be talked about…
like any other health.
How to get it, how to keep it.
DR READ SULEK SAYS IT WELL;
Transition; children coping,
JUDGE Heidi schellhas,
Early in my GAL career, Judge Shellhas shared with me pages and pages of psychotropic drugs proscribed to 5, 7, & 9 year olds in her courtroom over a one year period… She was very disturbed by this trend and we know that this policy is dangerous and needs to change.
Dr Read Sulek.The ability to cope as the best definition of mental health;
Dr. Sulek HAS created a 3 part, economically sound model for providing mental health care to schools.
It is A TERRIFIC NATIONAL MODEL… INSTEAD;
Because of lack of funding, MOST CHILDREN ARE PRESCRIBED PSYCHOTROPIC MEDICATIONS WITH LITTLE OR NO THERAPY TODAY.
Most states would find this to be a fair estimate if they were too keep track also.
Many states have abandoned mental health services for children, more and more states are now sending all MISBEHAVING HIGH SCHOOL youth to jail INSTEAD OF TO THE COUNSELORS OFFICE for help with behavior problems.
Transitiion; Because of the media’s misunderstanding &the politicians willingness to make children’s issues into cold hard politics, there is confusion, distraction, deprecating, dividing and blaming where there should be cooperation & concern for three year olds living in dangerous circumstances.
We must stand up to those politicians that are making political hay on the backs of children’s issues.
WE NEED TO BE UNITED AND SUPPORTIVE OF THE PEOPLE DOING THE WORK AND NOT REWARD THOSE WHO ARE deliberately misleading and destructive & furthering their political careers at the cost of thousands of young lives.
THERE IS Not a religion in the world that abandons the weakest and most vulnerable among us.
Recruit your friends to this cause.
Transition; These Key issues ARE written about extensively on the invisiblechildren.org website;
AS A PEOPLE WE DON’T LIKE TO TALK ABOUT;
1) Torture/Trauma/MENTAL HEALTH, SEX ABUSE,
THE World health org DEFINES TORTURE AS; EXTENDED EXPOSTURE TO VIOLENCE AND DEPRIVATION
MN IS NOW investigating 202 violent child deaths THIS LAST YEAR; over half OF THEM WERE beaten or shaken to death…
SOME OF YOU MAY REMEMBER THE Boy who died locked in a cage HERE IN INDIANA last year;
ALMOST ALL STATES ARE SUFFERING BIG INCREASES IN EARLY CHILD HOMICIDE & ACCIDENTAL DEATH.
DID YOU KNOW THAT 10% OF ALL SEVERE CHILD BURNS ARE DELIBERATELY INFLICTED?
2) Ready to learn vs. ready to FAIL,
Why are per child education costs HIGHER IN U.S. ? BECAUSE more and more OF AMERICA’S CHILDREN ARE NOT READY TO LEARN when they get to school. Until this changes the costs will continue to rise and schools will continue to fail. Don’t blame the teachers.
Weigh the cost of doubling down on the cost of teaching reading to third graders… (my volunteer work began when I saw several states using failed 3RD GRADE READING TEST SCORES to predict the need for prison space ten years out).
75% of inmates illiterate, ALMOST 20 % COMPLETELY ILLITERATE;
We know the economic and social costs of not graduating & that being able to read by the 3rd grade is critical to making it in school and making it in life.
Better and more available daycare and supporting education are critical if this is to be solved.
3) Pschotropics vs. Therapy,
Ritalin is a cocaine derivative that was banned in Sweden in 1968 because of suicides.
Like in OHIO, all misbehaving youth are sent to jail.
In 2005, when I wrote the book INVISIBLECHILDREN, there were only13 child psychiatrists in my entire state – with one of them practicing in my county.
SHE WAS TERRIBLY OVERWHELMED AND COULD ONLY PROVIDE brief periods of her time to 5, 7, & 9 year olds that had been raped and beaten.
In most systems, the COUNTY PAYS RIDICULOUSLY LOW RATES AND THEN DOESN’T PAY THE BILL on time or in full.
Many service providers have just quit being available where they are most needed.
There is a huge need for consistent and high quality mental health services for youth in America. It would pay for itself in just a few years; our children deserve better.
Missouri model/Children’s Defense Fund reference.
On the invisiblechildren.ORG website, our Century College volunteer intern David mast Wrote about a study of 254 youth that committed 220,000 crimes over 12 months, THINK ABOUT this is stunning…. What is this costing our community?
In the Ramsey County ACE study4 YEARS AGO, over 70% of the violent and serious crime caused by youth IN ST PAUL MN, were committed by juveniles from fewer than 4% of the families within the community.
I have written extensively on the fact that 25% of American juveniles are tried as adults in the U.S. EACH YEAR.
Economics of failure;
Nebraska tried to privatize its entire child protection system and failed completely just last month, with devastating results for the children of Nebraska.
A FEW MONTHS AGO, A Pennsylvania JUDGE was sentenced to many years in prison for receiving payments for each juvenile he committed to THE STATE’S privatized detention system (many if not most of the youth he sentenced were innocent). HE RUINED MANY YOUNG LIVES. The judge’s prison sentence will not benefit the incarcerated youth or change their lives.
PRIVATIZING CHILD PROTECTION, JUVENILE JUSTICE & CRIMINAL JUSTICE APPEARS TO BE A DANGEROUS TREND IN OUR NATION.
I have many stories of abusive privatized juvenile system failures in MN and am convinced that unless facilities are well monitored, staffs better trained, and management not directed by political ideology or religious beliefs, that children will continue to suffer as I have experienced in child protection as a CASA guardian ad-Litem.
Two of my stories are absolutely indefensible near death experiences for my child clients while in the custody of private care providers.
ONE, A 35 MILE WALK HOME IN A T SHIRT ON A 10 DEGREE NIGHT BECAUSE HE WAS CAST OUTSIDE FOR SWEARING (HE WAS AND IS MENTALLY CHALLANGED), this organization was staffed by undereducated and undertrained young people grossly unqualified for the work they were doing.
THE SECOND EXAMPLE WAS A SUICIDE WATCH FACILITY THAT LIED TO ME ABOUT ITS EXPERTISE AND ABILITY TO DEAL WITH SUICIDE AND INSTEAD OF HELPING A SUICIDAL YOUTH, MADE HIS LIFE MUCH WORSE. This was a religious organization that put its own ideology in front of the needs of the child.
CHILD PROTECTION is a public health crisis & needs to be treated as such;
Dr. Bruce Perry is right 25% of Americans will be special needs people by the end of this generation (I personally believe that it has already happened).
We must ask our policy makers, WHAT DOES 30 to 40 years of institutionalization COST?
WHAT IS THE cost of crime IN AMERICA EACH YEAR? 1.6 trillion is the insurance industries estimate in insurable losses.
JUST A FEW IMPORTANT FINAL FACTS BEFORE I MOVE ONTO WHAT WE CAN DO TO change all this.
In my homestate, MINNESOTA, our share of Iraq war is twenty six Billion dollars OVER THE NEXT 2 YEARS, THIS IS money that we have.
BUT WE DID NOT HAVE 6 Billion dollars FOR OUR SCHOOLS, ROADS, CHILDREN, AND HEALTH CARE THIS LAST LEGISLATIVE SESSION.
David strand, a KARA board member, has ACTUALLY made public policy on children’s issues in Finland OVER A TEN YEAR PERIOD WHILE HE LIVED THERE….and he talks about the huge difference
BETWEEN HOW THE REST OF THE INDUSTRIALIZED WORLD TREATS CHILDREN & HOW AMERICA IS TREATING its children
THE DANES HAVE DENTAL CHAIRS IN THIRD GRAD CLASSROOMS, SUBSIDIES FOR CHILDREN TO INSURE SAFETY, AND A GOOD EDUCATION, HEALTHCARE AND MENTAL HEALTH CARE ARE FREE FOR CHILDREN in most ADVANCED nations,
Did you know that; Day care workers are among the lowest paid workers in America?
Earning about the same as food service workers THAT ARE THE LOWEST PAID WORKERS IN THE U.S.
(in the rest of the industrialized world day care workers are well respected, well qualified, and well paid for the work they do enhancing the lives of their nation’s children).
The current assault on teachers & the dismantling of unions is a terrible development.
Think about it; Foster and adoptive families are being denigrated by the same politicians, who are blaming teachers for a failing education system and social workers when a baby is found dead or brutalized.
All because they won’t support the institutions these people must work in. What’s it like to be a teacher with 3 or 4 very troublesome Prozac children in a classroom of 35 or 40 students and not be able to control a classroom?
What’s it like to oversee twenty or thirty very troubled families as a social worker and have bad things happen?
What’s it like to have very disturbed foster children in a foster or adoptive home and worry about violence or terrible behavior problems with no help from the county?
Instead of supporting children and their caregivers in these circumstances, many politicians are destroying systems that work and damning the people that do the work.
Economically & socially it’s the opposite of sound policy making.
THE REST OF THE WORLD SEEMS TO KNOW THE VALUE OF HEALTHY CITIZENS.
One of our next big political fights is going to be raising the standards and availability of daycare in the U.S. Be on the right side of this argument.
MAKE SURE YOUR FRIENDS UNDERSTAND these issues also. Building awareness among our friends & circles of influence is a critical first step.
For as much talk as we have about the importance of children in this nation, we have not been putting our money where our mouth is. Let’s become a unified voice for children & change this.
What can we do?
In closing I’m making a personal request of you today to do 3 things that will make a big difference for our children and communities.
1) Find and understand an issue important to you & talk about it with your friends & neighbors. The more we learn and talk about these issues, the more comfortable we become in our conversations and the more likely we will be to speak out; Remember, The squeaky wheel gets the grease… no squeaky wheel, no grease & nothing changes – information is powerful.
2) Vote – and convince your friends vote.. tell them about your issue… tell them that not voting means less day care, fewer early learning programs, and far less support for children and education.
3) FINALLY, call your state representative, senator, and governor and tell them who you are, what you want, and why you want it. You pay their salaries, and they have to listen to you. Unless they hear from us on a regular basis, there IS simply no awareness of the pain being visited on these children
Be the one in your family to understand how public policy can be impacted.
Continue this discussion at our blog at invisiblechildren.org &
PLEASE LET ME KNOW YOUR RESPONSE TO THIS TALK & MAKE SUGGESTIONS THAT I MIGHT IMPROVE IT.
Thank you for the work you do and your commitment to at risk children
KNOW THAT WE CAN IMPROVE THE LIVES OF AT RISK CHILDREN BY STICKING TOGETHER AND SAYING OUR PIECE.
If we are successful as foster and adoption parents, we change the lives of a few children.
If we can come together and speak as a group, we will change the lives of thousands of children AND THEIR CHILDREN for many years to come.
I WILL NOW TAKE YOUR QUESTIONS. ******
Support the Indiana Foster Care & Adoption Association in our efforts to bring back sensible public policy for at risk children and the families that care for them.
Indiana Foster Care and Adoption Association
509 East National Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46227
Office: 317- 308-6555
Please pass this blog onto your circles of influence & those people you feel might respond to the politicizing of special needs and at risk children.