Unspeakable educational damage caused by addicted parents

Julvette P. began abusing drugs at the age of 13. For the next 20 years her life spun out of control, fueled by illegal drugs and alcohol. She cannot remember what put her on the path to self-destruction nor does she have much memory of what she did to survive two decades of heavy drinking and smoking marijuana. However, she is acutely aware she neglected her responsibilities as a parent.


Jayne Matthews Hopson

Julvette is now proud to say she has been drug-free for 19 years, crediting a Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, Inc., (bSAS) treatment program for her sobriety.

She works full time at the Academy of Success, a West Baltimore human services organization. “It’s pretty crazy. I’ve used drugs in this building before,” says the 52-year-old Julvette. “These days I work here, trying to help people like me. I know from experience it takes patience, tolerance and the support of your family to beat addiction.”

Julvette’s personal life is on the upswing as well. She is engaged to be married, and has re-established contact with her three children. Julvette has regained control of her destiny, writing new, much happier chapters to her story, overcoming formidable odds to live free of the drugs that stole her childhood.

I am deeply moved when I hear parents publicly share personal, painful details of battles fought against drug abuse. These heartfelt testimonials make me wonder about the untold stories. I ask myself what their children went through during those “lost” decades. As an education writer, I am particularly concerned about the unique academic challenges faced by students whose parent or parents are former or recovering drug addicts.

An eye-opening article published by an organization called the Children of Alcoholic and Other Substance Abusers (COSA) paints a troubling portrait of life for kids raised by addicts. COSA describes these children as “a population without a clear definition,” meaning the focus of remediation is on the child rather than the parent.

This is problematic because the parent does not have to still be actively drinking or using drugs, nor living in the home to continue to have a negative impact on the child’s life and well-being.

As regular readers of Education Matters know virtually all the advice, suggestions and recommendations the column offers is rooted in the concept that well-informed, consistent parental involvement is the best, most effective way to secure a good education.

COSA suggests that students whose parents abuse drugs have the academic success cards stacked against them. “In families where alcohol or other drugs are being abused, behavior is frequently unpredictable and communication is unclear. Family life is characterized by chaos and unpredictability. Behavior can range from loving to withdrawn to crazy. Structure and rules may be either nonexistent or inconsistent.”

Furthermore, “the abusing parent does not have to currently reside in the home to have a negative impact” on the student’s life. COSA outlines a stunning list of conditions and situations encountered by these children; each has the potential to permanently impede learning.

“Children of substance abusers may be the victims of physical violence or incest. They may also witness violence— frequently alcohol and other drug abuse goes hand in hand with domestic violence.”

COSA believes that children exposed to this level of violence are at risk for post-traumatic stress syndrome and may face “the same kinds of sleep disturbances, flashbacks, anxiety and depression that are associated with victims of war crimes.”

Furthermore, “parental substance abuse interrupts a child’s normal development, which places these youngsters at higher risk for emotional, physical and mental health problems.

Because parents who abuse alcohol or other drugs are more likely to be involved with domestic violence, divorce, unemployment, mental illness and legal problems, their ability to parent effectively is severely compromised,” diminishing their capacity to be effective advocates for their child’s education.

“There is a higher prevalence of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide attempts among [the children of drug abusers] than among their peers. In addition, these students are three to four times more likely than others to become addicted to alcohol or other drugs themselves.”

These are all significant barriers to academic success.

Next week: Academic consequences and recommendations

Jayne Matthew Hopson writes about education because “only the educated are free.

Survive the September asthma ‘epidemic’

— Many parents don’t realize that the worst asthma day of the year actually occurs in September. Clinical studies have shown that greatest number of hospitalizations due to asthma peak 17 days after Labor Day, which in 2013 will be September 19.

Why? As students return to school, there are a number of external factors, including respiratory allergens, viral infections and environmental irritants that can act together to create a “perfect storm” of asthma triggers.

To better understand the September phenomenon, we need to better characterize some of the underlying causes.

Outdoor allergens may seem to be the most obvious trigger. Ragweed, one the largest contributors to upper respiratory symptoms in the United States, produces pollen most aggressively after mid-August. However, indoor allergens can be a much more serious issue for patients with asthma.

Schools across the United States contain a number of potential respiratory allergens, including mold, dust mites, pet dander and, in some cases, cockroaches and mice. When children switch from a summertime outdoor environment to a climate-controlled indoor environment, overall daily exposure to these allergens can increase and severe symptoms can result.

Additionally, even though “flu season” is commonly known as a winter phenomenon, contagious viral infections are spread and shared as much, if not more, in September as they are in January. The school week is spent in an enclosed space with hundreds of other children (many of whom do not have sophisticated hygiene practices), which can provide stress to any student’s immune system. Catching “the common cold” can cause additional problems for a child with asthma. Many respiratory infections can lead to an increase in the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms.

Indoor air particulates such as aerosols, chalk dust and other irritants, can also lead to an increase in asthma symptoms. While these irritants may not trigger a true IgE allergen response, they can cause rhinitis and other conditions that can exacerbate asthma.

For patients with allergic asthma, exposure to allergens, infections and irritants can make mid-September a very challenging time. In addition, the combination of virus and sensitization with high allergen exposure substantially increases the risk of hospital admission.

So what can parents do to avoid these asthma triggers?

Good preparation includes education. During a back-to-school wellness check-up, it’s a good idea for parents to talk with their family clinician about both allergies and asthma if they suspect their child may be experiencing either condition.

After understanding the history of the symptoms, the clinician may order an allergy blood test to determine if possible allergic triggers are contributing to the asthma and other allergy-like symptoms.

If testing does identify allergic sensitization, a clinician can then advise parents on how to manage exposure to the allergens.

The first step in any allergy treatment plan is to avoid exposure as much as possible. While it may be almost impossible to remove all dust mites from a school, reducing exposure to them at home is a much more manageable task. Allergen-proof pillowcase covers can dramatically reduce exposure to dust mites, and since allergy symptoms usually occur because of cumulative exposure, allergen avoidance at night may help a child feel better all day long.

The same is true for mold and other allergens. It may be easier to control mold in the home environment (bathroom and/or bedroom) rather than the school environment. The key to effectively reducing a patient’s exposure to allergens is to know which triggers to specifically target.

The “September Asthma Epidemic” is coming, but with appropriate preparation and education, it can be managed. If you’re unsure about your child’s risk, speak with your doctor about his or her past history and consider testing. Together you and your family clinician can determine which triggers might affect your child and create a plan to better manage the epidemic.

Dr. Robert Reinhardt is an assistant professor of family medicine at Michigan State University and the U.S. medical director for ImmunoDiagnostics at Thermo Fisher Scientific.


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One-sport kids risk more injuries, weight gain

— As millions of children return to school and to their favorite sports, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center suggest parents encourage youngsters to consider more than one activity to avoid injuries and, surprisingly, unwanted weight gain.

While many kids choose to play only one sport in hopes of gaining an edge on the competition and improving their chances of future success, Tim Hewett, director of research at Ohio State University Sports Medicine, said that strategy comes with the risk of negative long-term effects.

“You could call it the Tiger Woods syndrome,” Hewett said. “Young athletes feel like they have to play a single sport and they have to play it year round.”

After following more than 500 athletes for more than a decade, Hewett and his Ohio State team found that single-sport athletes had a 50 percent higher risk of knee injury. He said part of the problem is repetition – doing the same motions year after year can wear out bones and joints.

In addition, if a one-sport athlete did suffer a knee injury, they were also more likely to struggle with weight gain, often for years. In the case of young girls who play one sport and injure a knee, the study (funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the British Journal of Medicine in May) found that their risk of long-term obesity increases 33 percent.

“Even when we follow them over multiple years, they tend to retain the weight gain,” Hewett said.

He recommends playing more than one sport to help build core strength and balance several muscle groups. This prevents the same muscles from being used consistently more than others.

“A diversity of activity is going to promote balance within your neuromuscular system,” Hewett said. “You’re going to be able to be proficient and excel at multiple tasks.”

Oklahoma orders extradition of birth father in Native American child custody dispute

— The high-profile case of a girl adopted by a South Carolina couple is moving toward another legal showdown after Oklahoma’s governor ordered the extradition of the girl’s biological Native American father, who is accused of custodial interference.

Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday ordered that Dusten Brown be extradited to South Carolina after she became convinced that the father disobeyed an Oklahoma court order to allow the adoptive couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, to visit Veronica, 4.

“My goal in the Baby Veronica case has been to encourage both Mr. Brown and the Capobianco family to reach a quick settlement and come to an agreement that protects Veronica’s best interests,” the governor said in a statement.

“I said previously that I was willing to delay Mr. Brown’s extradition to South Carolina as long as all parties were working together in good faith to pursue such a settlement,” Fallin said. “Unfortunately, it has become clear that Dusten Brown is not acting in good faith.”

But Brown’s attorneys told CNN that they will challenge the extradition order at a hearing scheduled for September 12. They claim their client did not break a law in the ongoing custody dispute.

In June, a divided U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Capobiancos, who are white, when Brown sought to assert his parental rights. They had legally adopted her when Veronica was a baby.

The justices said the adoption was proper and did not intrude on the federal rights of the father, a registered member of the Cherokee tribe, over where his daughter would live.

The court said Brown could not rely on the Indian Child Welfare Act for relief because he never had legal or physical custody at the time of adoption proceedings, which were initiated by the non-Native American birth mother without his knowledge.

The father then took his case to Oklahoma courts.

Father’s attorneys will contest extradition

Following the Supreme Court order, a family court in South Carolina developed a “transition plan” to ease any transfer, taking into account the girl’s age, sensitivities of the parties involved and the Native American heritage dynamic underlying the larger legal dispute.

Brown did not attend a transition meeting, saying he had National Guard training out of state and was unable to get out of that duty.

The South Carolina family court then ordered that Veronica be turned over immediately. Brown refused to turn the child over and was cited for contempt. A warrant was issued on August 10 for “custodial interference.”

Brown turned himself in to authorities in Oklahoma, his home state. He posted a $10,000 bond.

Fallin acted after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley filed a request with the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking “the prompt return of a South Carolina child to her adoptive parents and ensuring that Mr. Brown is held accountable for criminally withholding Veronica Rose Capobianco from her parents for nearly one month,” according to a court document.

“Our hope and expectation is Mr. Brown turns himself into the Sequoyah County (Oklahoma) sheriff tomorrow,” Alex Weintz, communications director for Fallin, told CNN on Wednesday evening. “If he does not, the sheriff will arrest him and can do so on or off tribal land.”

Robert Nigh, Brown’s attorney in South Carolina, said his client has the right to post bond if he is arrested in Oklahoma.

Fallin’s “unfortunate” order does not mean Brown will be extradited, according to another attorney, Clark Brewster.

An Oklahoma judge will determine whether the father broke any laws, he said, adding his client did not do so.

Brown and his attorneys “will appear before a judicial officer, point out the defects in the order and defend themselves,” Brewster told CNN.

Brewster also claimed his client has tried to accommodate the Capobiancos during the appeal process.

But Haley, in her court filing in Oklahoma, said Brown has been in “willful defiance” of South Carolina courts that ordered him to return Veronica to the Capobiancos. South Carolina wants to prosecute Brown for custodial interference.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an emergency stay on Friday to temporarily delay the transfer of Veronica to the Capobiancos. The order was made public on Tuesday.

Case has tested federal law

Brown’s extradition does not affect the current placement of Veronica, according to Fallin. She would be able to stay with Brown’s relatives.

The four-year case has spanned state lines and tested an unusual federal law.

The Capobianco’s legally adopted Veronica at birth in September 2009. When Brown, a Cherokee Nation member, learned of her adoption a few months later, he asserted his custody rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act, setting off a lengthy legal fight.

A family court judge ruled in Brown’s favor in late 2011, and he took his daughter back. The Capobiancos have fought ever since to have Veronica returned, arguing federal law does not define an unwed biological father as a “parent.”

Fallin claimed that Brown denies visitation between the adoptive couple and the girl. “He is acting in open violation of both Oklahoma and South Carolina courts, which have granted custody of Veronica to the Capobiancos. Finally, he has cut off negotiations with the Capobiancos and shown no interest in pursuing any other course than yet another lengthy legal battle,” the governor said.

“As governor, I am committed to upholding the rule of law. As a mother, I believe it is in the best interests of Veronica to help end this controversy and find her a permanent home,” Fallin said.

Melanie Capobianco has told reporters that Veronica is being “illegally held against the wishes of her parents and the courts,” and she pleaded for her daughter’s return.

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Michael Martinez, Bill Mears and Phil Gast contributed to this report.


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‘Africa’s father of the internet:’ Web pioneer on bringing a continent online

— If you’re reading this somewhere in Africa, then perhaps you should thank Nii Quaynor.

The Ghanaian professor is known as “Africa’s father of the internet,” a web pioneer who helped establish some of the continent’s first online connections.

For some 20 years now, soft-spoken Quaynor has been at the forefront of web development across Africa. He is the first African to be elected to the board of ICANN, the internet corporation for assigned names and numbers. He’s also played an important part in launching the African Network Operators Group and AfriNIC, the African internet numbers registry.

As a result, Quaynor was recently inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, lauded as an instrumental figure “in the early design and development of the internet.” He is today chairman of Ghana’s information technology agency and a professor at the country’s Cape Coast University.

CNN’s African Voices spoke to Quaynor about the role of the internet in Africa’s development and his dreams for the continent’s digital future. An edited version of the interview follows.

CNN: How did you get the title of father of the internet in Africa?

Nii Quaynor: Actually I don’t know, but perhaps I made a lot of effort to get my colleagues to understand and to participate and to begin to contribute to the internet. And I have been fortunate with a very good educational background and so I also wanted to impart the knowledge and I was a major contributor in building some of the important technical institutions that make up the internet ecosystem in Africa. In the process of doing that a lot of people perhaps felt that my leadership was good for them, and you might say, gave me that kind of description.

CNN: What is the state of the internet in the continent?

NQ: The health of the internet in Africa is good; we have good connectivity, at least to major capital cities; we also have good wireless through the mobile companies and other forms of connectivity, so connectivity is becoming less of a barrier, except that we are still working on the affordability side of that connectivity.

The part that we are yet to, in some sense, make headway is both in the use as well as in we being part of the production side of services for the internet.

We don’t have many businesses developing content or hosting content or doing e-commerce — we have some banks trying to do internet banking, meaning we having companies beginning to adopt it, but we really haven’t taken hold of it. Some of it may be because of inadequate policies, because our policies historically have been about the transmission side of things and so we need to take another look at how a country thinks about developing its internet.

So we have a big challenge — actually, we see it as an opportunity. Connectivity is not the problem, now it’s shifting to the industry and we need to really build strong industries that will serve the needs of the one billion people in Africa.

CNN: Do African governments understand the need for connectivity?

NQ: I think governments now do understand; for most governments it’s important. They may not know what they want to do with it, but they understand it’s very important. That sometimes explains why government actions are seen as not coordinated or erratic, because they think it’s very important but they yet don’t have a full, sufficient understanding to know exactly how they want to interact with it or manage it or grow it. But certainly they recognize it is very important and many in governments are engaging with the internet technical community and other multi-stakeholder organizations to support them to evolve.

We do understand that usually policy lags behind technology, so some of these sorts of conflicts would occur, but I think we have weathered the storm — Africa is going beyond those days and now recognizes the importance of it. They are battling with controlling it, and soon we’ll convince everyone that there is no need and that the right thing to do is to discipline it and begin to adopt it and make it do the right things for us and help define what Africa wants from the internet, which is not very obvious yet.

CNN: What is your hope for Africa in the future?

NQ: My hope for Africa in the future is that Africa will own its portion of the internet. Africa should strive to participate on its own terms on the internet, not leave it to chance to be determined.

Africa can indeed determine how it wants to play in the internet and Africa should ensure that it is able to create the right policy environment for the internet to grow.


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Some 2-year degrees pay off better than BAs

— Shelling out more money for a four-year college degree doesn’t always mean you’ll land a job with a better salary, a recent report found.

In fact, graduates of many two-year associates and occupational certificate programs earn just as much as workers with traditional four-year degrees — if not more in some cases, according to a report from CollegeMeasures.org, which analyzed the earnings of recent graduates in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

In Texas, for example, workers with “technical” associates degrees, which typically include specialized training in fields such as technology and healthcare, earned a median annual salary of $50,827 in their first year after graduation — an average of $11,000 more than those with bachelor degrees.

In Arkansas, aircraft technicians with an occupational certificate earned, on average, more than $40,000 in the first year on the job, while college graduates with a psychology degree earned roughly $26,000.

Over the span of a career, however, the earnings potential shifts with the average four-year college graduate out-earning the average associate’s degree holder, said Mark Schneider, president of College Measures.

But the four-year degree often comes with a hefty price tag. For the 2012-13 school year, average annual tuition and fees at public four-year colleges was $8,655 and nearly $30,000 at private institutions, according to the College Board. At public two-year colleges (mainly community colleges), the average annual bill was $3,131.

With college costs spiking, student debt at record levels and hiring still weak, Schneider said it’s essential that incoming students take into account their future earnings and job prospects when choosing a school and area of study.

For example, workers with “academic” associates degrees, which are tailored to students hoping to transfer to four-year schools, typically earn far less than students who choose technical and occupational associates degrees where students are armed with much more specific vocational skills.

“Students who go into community colleges with the expectation that they’re going to transfer to a four-year degree are not getting their money’s worth quite frankly,” said Schneider, noting that many students never make it to the four-year degree.

Meanwhile, students enticed to the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with promises of high future salaries, should be wary of the ‘S.’

According to the report, biology and chemistry majors have starting salaries that pale in comparison to their other STEM counterparts.

In Virginia, for example, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering earned an average starting salary of more than $50,000, while biology grads earned less than $30,000.

Schneider said he is hopeful that more students will educate themselves before taking on significant student debt to finance their education. President Obama recently proposed rating colleges on a variety of factors, including the earnings of its graduates.

“Right choices can lead to good careers and high earnings, but wrong ones can leave graduates with mountains of debt and poor prospects of ever paying off their student loans,” he wrote.


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‘Secretary of Explaining Stuff’ to sell Obamacare

— President Barack Obama once joked former President Bill Clinton should be appointed “Secretary of Explaining Stuff.”

Clinton will try to prove Obama right in a speech defending the controversial – and still misunderstood – Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2010 law otherwise known as Obamacare on Wednesday at his presidential library in Little Rock, Akansas.

The White House has often turned to Clinton to help sell policy. In 2010, the former president held the floor in the White House briefing room for nearly 30 minutes to tout a tax cut deal reached with Republicans and just last year, he delivered a passionate defense of Obama administration policies, including Obamacare, at the Democratic National Convention.

“I think they’ve used him wisely and sparingly,” said Matt McKenna, a Clinton spokesman.

Still, selling the health care overhaul – a law vital to Obama’s legacy – could prove to be a big job, with polls still very much divided on it.

The speech at the Clinton Presidential Center – the beginning of a big public education push – will focus on “the critical role a high quality, affordable and accessible health care system plays in the United States and any country’s economic and social well being,” according to a release from the Clinton’s charitable foundation.

While Clinton often mentions the ACA in speeches, today’s address will be the first one focusing entirely on the law, McKenna said.

The pitch comes less than a month before the opening of the law’s insurance marketplaces, the health care exchanges that form the core of the Act. Those exchanges need to enroll young, healthy participants to keep premiums low, but a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that while 51% of Americans don’t have enough information to understand how the law will affect them, the number is even higher – 62% — for the uninsured and for adults under 25, key groups the administration needs to reach.

“President Clinton’s speech is part of ongoing outreach efforts around the Affordable Care Act about a month ahead of Marketplaces opening. These efforts will help to ensure that Americans know that there will be a simple way to get health insurance that will fit your needs, lifestyle, and budget at any income level, starting this fall,” a White House official said. In it, he will “lay out in clear terms the benefits the law is already providing to millions of Americans and what new options will become available to consumers when the Health Insurance Marketplaces open on October 1.”

The White House says Wednesday’s speech is the first of a number of high profile events aimed at raising awareness about the three-year-old law. In addition to Clinton, the Obama team is deploying a number of administration officials across the government to promote and explain the law, along with DJs, librarians, faith leaders, pharmacies, celebrities and insurance companies, the official said.

McKenna said Obama asked Clinton to speak on the issue and the Clinton’s foundation decided what he would say and where. About 250 people are expected to attend the event, including representatives from Arkansas’ health care community, the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas legislators and state officials, members of the business community, students from the Clinton School of Public Service and groups affiliated with the president’s foundation, like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative.

The White House said Clinton is expected to continue to raise public awareness around the law during the critical months for open enrollment. The former president’s spokesman said he would continue to be a voice for quality, affordable, accessible health care, but would not say whether other speeches were scheduled.

The big push comes as Republicans, like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, continue to try to defund a bill Cruz called “the biggest job killer in American history,” an effort that’s all but certain to fail in the face of opposition from the president and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

It also comes a day after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another GOP darling, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius blasting the administration for plans to spend $8.7 million in taxpayer dollars to advertise the law across the country in the coming months.

“This blatant misuse of federal dollars to promote a fundamentally flawed law is extremely concerning, especially considering the extensive unknowns surrounding the coming launch and implementation of ObamaCare,” Rubio wrote in the September 3 letter. “Until critical questions can be answered regarding the availability and type of health insurance to be provided by ObamaCare, it is unconscionable to spend taxpayer dollars to promote and advertise ObamaCare plans that have yet to be finalized.”


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