Give Miracles this Holiday Season

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals want you to check out a new holiday catalog full of electronics and toys.  I know what you’re thinking… But these electronics include heart monitors to check the vital signs of sick babies, and these toys are used to brighten a child’s day during a long stay at the hospital. 

The Give Miracles campaign uses crowdfunding to add a twist of social media to your holiday gift giving.  “What if people could actually get together and donate in groups of people,” asks CMN Hospitals Chief Concept Officer Craig Sorensen, “maybe you have $20 to give, $100 dollars to give, or $100,000 dollars to give to your local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, but you could go all in together and crowdfund an item.” 

The platform being used for the Give Miracles campaign is Fundly, and CEO Dave Boyce says the model treats the $100 dollar donor like the $100,000 dollar donor.  “The thing that’s frustrating for most of us mere mortals who donate $50 or $100 at a time is that we never know where our money goes, and we never get any of the psychic benefit that we thought we were going to get from donating,” Boyce explains.

That’s all changing now, because donors will not only choose which hospital they want to support – but they’ll decide where they want their money to go, and whether to fund a specific need completely or become part of a larger project.  Campaign subscribers then receive regular updates on their chosen project, which allow them to track where their money is going and who else in their social networks is joining them.   

In Pennsylvania, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, Saint Vincent Health Center and Geisinger’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital are all a part of this unique campaign. 

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is actually one of eight hospitals, nationwide, which are being featured for an Ultimate Gift.  “We have one of the very best autism research and treatment programs in the world,” says CHOP’s Chief Development Officer Stuart Sullivan.  “We thought if we got a significant investment from a donor we could do even more.”  Their goal: $7.5-million dollars.     

Children’s hospitals help more kids than any other organization in a community, according to Craig Sorensen, who also notes that they aren’t always top of mind as a cause organization.  That’s why Sorensen hopes the Give Miracles campaign becomes an annual tradition.

2012 School Readiness Report Finds Stagnation in PA

Little or no progress has been made in several key areas of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children’s annual School Readiness report.  For instance, 41.6% of Pennsylvania children age four and under are living in low-income households today.  That’s roughly the same as last year.    

Another area of stagnation is children’s health insurance.  About 5.2% of children age four and under currently lack it, compared to some 5% in the previous year. 

This is the first year that county-specific data on school readiness has been made available. 

PPC spokesman Mike Race says Pennsylvania cannot defer investments in young learners.  “A child only has one window of opportunity when they’re three or four years old,” Race says.  “If we don’t take advantage of that window of opportunity… it’s lost forever.”

Pennsylvania did make progress in a few areas in the 2012 report, as thousands more Pennsylvania children are receiving early intervention services and high-quality child care.

vending machine, junk food, obesity

Study Links Parents’ Stress with Kids’ Weight

Stressed out parents are more likely to have obese kids, according to a new study to be published in next month’s edition of the journal Pediatrics.  “When you add things up you can get something that’s called a stressor pile-up,” says Dr. Elizabeth Prout Parks of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  “So you may be able to deal with one thing that’s stressing you, but when there’s five things stressing you, you’re behavior changes more.” 

The conclusions were drawn by crunching the numbers contained in an existing survey of thousands of households in southeastern Pennsylvania. 

The stressors can include everything from finances to relationships.  While further research is needed to uncover specific reasons for the link between parents’ stress and kids’ weight, Dr. Parks made an educated guess for Radio PA.  “For example if [stress] is leading you to have decreased sleep or increased demands upon your time; then that’s going to make you less likely to want to cook, less likely to want to go grocery shopping and more likely to consume fast foods.”     

In fact, the study also finds that parents who perceive themselves to be stressed are more likely to have children who eat fast food more than two times per week. 

Dr. Parks, a physician nutrition specialist at CHOP, doesn’t want to make already stressed parents feel bad – she wants to make public health officials aware of this issue.

Study Recognizes the Overlooked and Undercounted

A new report finds that one in four Pennsylvania households is living below the self-sufficiency standard.  Pathways PA calls that standard the true cost of living, and they’ve crunched the numbers county-by-county. 

“We look at the cost of food, transportation, health care, housing and child care as well as miscellaneous costs,” explains senior policy director Marianne Bellesorte.  “Using publicly verifiable data we’re able to determine how much – at minimum – a family would need to make ends meet.” 

For instance, in Dauphin County, a one adult household would need to earn $19,000 dollars a year to meet the self-sufficiency standard.  Add an infant, and that number would increase to $34,000 dollars.  Child care is generally a household’s biggest expense, according to Bellesorte. 

The new report finds that 25% of PA families live below the standard, up from 20% in 2007.  The highest numbers can be found in Philadelphia (42%); the lowest in Adams County (17%). 

The report’s called Overlooked and Undercounted: How the Great Recession Impacted Household Self-Sufficiency in Pennsylvania.  “The people who are overlooked and undercounted are people who are above the federal poverty level, but are below the self-sufficiency standard,” Bellesorte explains. 

Pathways PA wants policymakers to pay attention, and take action that leads to adequate work.  Bellesorte says nearly 4 in 5 of the households below the standard have at least one adult the workforce.

Hearing to Focus on Child Advocacy Center Bill

A Child Advocacy Center can be the focal point of care for young victims of physical or sexual abuse.  With them, state Rep. Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton) says child victims must only tell their traumatic stories once.  Without them, she says, they would have to go through that experience five or more times for police officers, doctors, social workers and other officials.

Harhart is the prime sponsor of the Children’s Advocacy Center Funding Act which would help to support the state’s 20+ existing CACs, and assist counties that want to establish them.  No taxpayer money would be spent on the program, as HB 1739 calls for a $2-fee on certain court filings in the state.  However, that funding stream may be tweaked in committee to instead come from a fee on certain child abuse background checks conducted by the Department of Public Welfare.

The source of the funding is expected to be thoroughly discussed when the House Judiciary Committee convenes a public hearing in the capitol complex on Tuesday.

Rep. Harhart tells Radio PA that her passion for the bill comes from the success she’s seen firsthand at the Lehigh County Child Advocacy Center.  “It’s a one-stop-shop for the tiniest victims of crime,” she says.

This is not a new issue; Harhart has been working to find a statutory funding stream for CACs for ten years now.  She acknowledges, however, that the Penn State scandal may be bringing her bill more attention this year.


Training Tool Does More than Meet Federal Mandate

A federal mandate requires specialized training for lawyers representing abused and neglected children, if the state is to continue to receive $950,000 dollars a year for related services.  The state Supreme Court’s Office of Children and Families in the Courts responded with a first-of-its-kind training DVD.

“Even though it started out to particularly meet a federal mandate, it really turned into a lot more,” says Butler County Judge Kelley Streib, who co-chaired the panel that helped create the new training tool for guardians ad litem.

The video includes all of the relevant laws and procedures, but we asked Judge Streib to explain what really stands out in her mind:JudgeStreib

“No longer is it acceptable to have children languishing for years in the dependency system,” Streib explains.  That’s been a major focus of both the state courts and Department of Public Welfare in recent years.  Since 2006, the number of dependent children in temporary foster care has been reduced by 33%.

Report: More Kids Living with Extended Family

Family structures are shifting.  A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation details the unique challenges of 2.7-million children being raised by relatives other than their parents at some point in their lives.  The number has increased more than 18% in the past decade.

It’s called kinship care, and officials say up to 101,000 Pennsylvania children (about 4%) are impacted.

“Many of these caregivers are older and have less income, and they’re taking on the responsibility in the middle of a crisis,” explains Robert Geen, the foundation’s director of family services and systems policies.

“The children themselves have experienced the trauma of being separated from their parents, so it is a challenging situation.”

That’s not to say kinship care is bad for kids.  Research shows that children do best with relatives when they cannot stay with their parents, but Geen says the best evidence is common sense.  “Ask any parent where they would want their children to live, if they could not take care of them, and they’re going to say a relative or extended family member,” he tells Radio PA.

The new report includes recommendations that take this changing family dynamic into account.  Geen says kinship caregivers should be given the authority to make decisions on behalf of the child, and that government programs designed for the nuclear family should be reevaluated to see if they are meeting the needs of kinship caregivers.

Gaming Board, Parx Discuss ‘Kids in Cars’ Problem

Nine incidents were reported last year; three more have already been documented in 2011.  At issue are adults who go inside Parx Casino to gamble, while leaving children unattended in the parking lot.  Appearing before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Tuesday, Parx officials said all offenders are subject to arrest by Bensalem Police.  “Anyone who has left children unattended are permanently evicted by us… and that permanent eviction then makes them subject to criminal trespass if they are to appear again at our property,” added Parx General Counsel Thomas Bonner.  Offenders also have their players club accounts canceled and are removed from any marketing lists. 

Those are just the patron sanctions.  Bonner went on to explain how the casino has ramped up enforcement.  “Before these incidents began to occur with greater frequency last year, we had about 16-cameras in our parking lots.  We’ve just about doubled that number to 29-cameras in our parking lot areas,” Bonner says.  Parx has also installed signage at the casino doors, warning patrons of the problem and penalties, and increased the number of security vehicles conducting roving parking lot patrols.  “The last several incidents that we’ve had, response times were 6-minutes, 17-minutes, 15-minutes.  They were very short response times,” Bonner says.

Greg Fajt

Greg Fajt

Members of the Gaming Control Board appeared pleased with the response times, but concerned with how to prevent such actions and the penalties for them.  “This segment of the population just doesn’t appear to get it, and these folks need to be given a message,” says Gaming Board chairman Greg Fajt.  The board took no enforcement action, but some members suggested that lawmakers could help them create tougher penalties.

Children More At Risk for Digital Eye Strain as Use of Devices Becomes More Common

Children and teens are spending more time using not only computers, but smart phones and other devices with smaller screens. VSP Vision Care optometrists are reporting nearly one-third of their patients suffer from symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, also known as digital eye strain.

VSP Optometrist, Dr. Noah Eger with the Eger Eye Group in Coraopolis, says it’s not uncommon now to diagnose a kindergartener  or first grader with near-sightedness, something that used to show up in grades four or five.   

Dr. Eger describes some of the symptoms of digital eye strain as blurry vision, difficulty focusing on near objects, dry or irritated eyes, headaches and back or neck pain.    

To prevent these symptoms, he recommends the 20-20-20 rule.  That means stopping every 20 minutes during work with a digital device to focus on something that is 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Dr. Eger says proper lighting is also important.  He says you don’t want light behind you or directly over the display terminal shining down on the screen.  He adds that the devices should not be used regularly in the dark

Dr. Eger says the device should be the proper distance away from the user. He says for a computer screen, you should be at least two feet away from the display. For hand-held devices, there’s the Harmon distance, the amount of space between your elbow and your forefinger.

Dr. Eger says regular eye exams for children are important. He says the initial exam should be conducted at age 1, with exams again at ages 3 and 5, and yearly exams when the child enters school.

Parents Reminded About Vaccine Changes

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month and state health officials are reminding parents there are some new requirements for school children.      Heather Stafford, director of the Division of Immunizations, says students in the seventh grade, or age 11 to 12, will now need a TDAP, or Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis booster and a meningococcal conjugate vaccine.  

Stafford says students in all grades need to be sure they’ve had three doses of Hepatitis B vaccine and a second dose of the mumps and chicken pox vaccines.

Stafford says there’s a “grace” period.  She says they allow an eight month provisional period for students to become compliant.

Stafford says if you have health  insurance, work with your family physician or pediatrician to make sure school children are up-to-date. For those who lack sufficient insurance, there are state health centers where  children can be vaccinated at no cost.

Stafford says there are many vaccine-preventable diseases and parents of pre-schoolers and infants should make sure they’re up-to-date on their immunizations. Adults should also be current on all of their shots. Some to consider for children and adults include the rotavirus vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine for infants and adults and a vaccine to protect older adults from shingles. One type of meningitis vaccine, Menactra, has now been approved for use in children as young as 9 months. Influenza vaccines are recommended for everyone age 6 months and up.

Adults who need to get a tetanus booster should are now being advised to consider the TDAP instead.  Stafford says this helps prevent the spread of pertussis.

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