Bullies and breast-feeding

I love when local moms write to the newspaper to talk about topics of direct interest to us. Today’s Opinion pages have a letter from a Missoula grandparent concerned about bullying in schools.

We always think this kind of thing happens to someone else’s kid. Maybe we even have personal prejudices about the “type” of kid this happens to be or the kind of family he or the bully came from. I am telling you, it could happen to your beloved child.

The letter encourages parents to research laws and policies regarding bullying.

And yesterday’s Opinion page brought us a letter from a Missoula mom who decried the common practice of including formula in hospital’s take-home bags for newborns.

Hospitals giving away free formula definitely undermines a new mom’s determination to breast-feed. It’s hard enough to nurse your baby, it’s even harder when it’s 2 a.m. and the formula is so close by. I wish I had never had formula in my house.

Playground

Were I to write my own letter today, it would would be one advocating a playground on every block – a swing for every child! Case in point is today’s Hall Passages in which the folks at Lewis and Clark Elementary talk about the marked decrease in students’ behavior problems, thanks to the schools’ new playground.

Plus, as this photo demonstrates, play structures can pull double duty as public art.

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Underwear not fun to wear if bought secondhand

Connie Schultz has a column up today about a proposal from Michigan state Sen. Bruce Caswell that would make sure parents of kids in the foster care system only spend their clothing allowance on used clothes. Caswell is backing off the proposal fast, but the controversy over used versus new clothes rages on.

What I want to know is: Would the proposal have applied to children’s undergarments as well?

I ask because underpants are one thing I absolutely refuse to buy from thrift stores – and most of my family’s clothing was purchased at such places (with a few notable exceptions).

Rarely do I ever see brand-new underpants – let alone children’s underpants – in secondhand stores. It’s also tough to find seasonal shoes that fit my kiddo (like rain boots in the spring, sturdy sandals in the summer, snow boots in the winter, etc.). Socks in good shape are also hard to come by in my daughter’s age range – probably because kids her age are pretty hard on their clothes.

So I’d consider Caswell’s proposal impractical as well as insensitive. Sure, secondhand clothes are great – they are often just as good as new and cost only a fraction of the price.

And if you were fostering a kiddo who had seem some pretty rough times and she had her heart set on a particular sparkly pink princess skirt, perhaps you could find it in your heart to say no. But you shouldn’t be forced to.

What do you say? What do you think about used versus new, hand-me-downs and passed-arounds?

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Missoula parents should be aware of asbestos exposure

Following is a guest post by Krista Peterson, a recent college graduate from the University of Central Florida, health and safety advocate, and aspiring writer. She tells me she enjoys writing “to help encourage others to live the healthiest and most eco-friendly lifestyles possible.”

Although she does not live in Missoula, this piece is geared specifically toward Missoula parents:
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Should parents have the right to leave their kids unbuckled?

In Montana, people have the right to decide whether they want to significantly increase their odds of dying in a car crash by opting not to use their seat belts. Even though it is against the law not to use a seat belt while riding in a vehicle, it’s considered a secondary offense, meaning you won’t be pulled over for it unless you’re doing something else wrong.

Reportedly, our state is the only one in the nation that allows even children to be driven around unbuckled. Even if a police officer sees a kid or two bouncing around in a moving vehicle, not buckled up or strapped into an age-appropriate car seat like they’re supposed to be, the officer cannot do a thing about it unless the driver is committing some other traffic infraction as well.

The Missoulian’s editorial board has said before that this sends a weird message – essentially that the people of Montana consider a broken tail light a bigger problem than an unbuckled seat belt.

Today, the editorial board over at the Billings Gazette opined in favor of a billSenate Bill 319 – that would apply specifically to child safety restraints in vehicles. It would allow police to pull over drivers if anyone in the car younger than 18 isn’t wearing a seatbelt.

The Gazette reported that:

Last year, 25 people under the age of 18 were killed in Montana highway crashes, 60 percent of them weren’t wearing seat belts or in child safety seats, said Jim Lynch, MDOT director. If all had been buckled in, statistically, five lives could have been saved.

That’s reason enough for parents to make sure their kids are buckled up every time they hit they road – whether it’s the law or not.

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HB 281 would revise laws for guardians ad litem

House Bill 281 is sponsored by Missoula Democrat Betsy Hands in the Montana Legislature. It would revise the statutes governing guardians ad litem to require training and establish a grievance process, among other things. Here’s a letter I just received in support of its passage:

I am writing in response to recent action by our judges of the 4th Judicial District to institute “local rules” for guardians ad litem, individuals assigned by the court to represent children in families with contentious custody issues. Montana’s laws governing GALs are some of the weakest in the country.

The half-page Montana statute currently guiding the work of GALs states that a GAL may be appointed by the court to represent a child “with respect to the child’s support, parenting, and parental contact.” The GAL “has access to court, medical, psychological, law enforcement, social services, and school records pertaining to the child and the child’s siblings and parents or caretakers.” GALs in Montana currently charge their clients $60-$200/hour.

This same highly paid person, delegated with the utmost authority over the lives of children and families, is not required to have any education or training. They are not required to have knowledge or experience in areas of child development, child abuse, substance abuse, or domestic violence. They are not required even to have a two-year technical college degree. This same person has no oversight beyond the judge who has assigned them to the case.

Thanks to our local judges, Missoula County now has some very general guidelines for GALs to follow as they navigate the custody and legal system, making life-altering recommendations for children and families. Unfortunately, this same group of judges, with the exception of Judge Dusty Deschamps, does not support the current legislation, House Bill 281, which would mandate education and training, as well as oversight.

Montana citizens cannot allow HB 281 to go unpassed; we cannot allow this unregulated industry to continue controlling the lives of children in such an uneducated, uninformed, unsupervised way. Please call or write your legislators today. Urge them to vote for HB 281.

Emily McKey,
Potomac

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Missoula legislator sponsors bill to reform guardian ad litem laws

House Bill 281 seems to be making some headway in the Montana Legislature. Last month it received a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, and a fiscal note has been printed.

The law, sponsored by Missoula’s Rep. Betsy Hands, would revise state laws relating to the guardians ad litem system.

This week’s edition of the Missoula Independent carries a story about this legislation and additional efforts by the group Montanans Supporting Guardian Guidelines to improve laws that oversee (or fail to oversee) the court-appointed representatives charged with advocating the best interests of children.

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Bill in drafting process would tackle bullying

In keeping with my promise to wade through the sea of proposed legislation in the Montana House and Senate and return with pearls of information about items of particular interest to parents:

Here’s LC1828, a bill that is still in the drafting process at the Montana Legislature, which aims to provide “processes” and “remedies” for bullying in the workplace and in schools.

Here’s the part that specifically addresses bullying in Montana’s public schools:

NEW SECTION. Section 2.  Procedures to address bullying or abusive conduct in schools. (1) A student or an employee of a school may file a complaint of bullying or abusive conduct, as defined in [section 5], with the county superintendent of schools or ask the county superintendent of schools to appoint an outside mediator or a mediator to which all parties agree. A school district’s Title IX coordinator may serve as a mediator for any aggrieved party not otherwise served by the coordinator. The county superintendent of schools shall seek to resolve the complaint using remedies developed at the local level. If there are no remedies at the local level, the aggrieved party may pursue the remedies in [section 6].

(2) For the purposes of this section, “bullying” means repeated verbal or physical conduct or written communication or electronic communication, as defined in 45-8-213, in public or in private against a student or an employee of a school if the student or employee targeted by the activity has requested the activity to stop and if a reasonable person would find the activity hostile, intimidating, offensive, humiliating, or an abuse of authority. Repeated incidences of certain behaviors are evidence of bullying, including provocative or dehumanizing name calling, use of belittling language, exclusion from requisite training, physical isolation, and the obscuring of information or materials necessary to complete a task or achieve productive work.

So far the bill appears to lack a sponsor, which does not bode well for its immediate future. But we are only midway through week three of the 90-day legislature, so there’s still time to get this rolling toward a committee.

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Breastfeeding mom knows her rights – and so should you

It seems a local mom was asked by a staff member of Currents to breastfeed her child in the bathroom this week. The mom protested, but the staff insisted that she stop breastfeeding in public.

Knowing her rights, the mom complained to Missoula Parks and Rec, which issued a prompt apology and pledged to correct the problem by running staff through training.

The three e-mails copied below should serve as an important reminder to parents to know the laws about breastfeeding in Montana. I know there was a time when I, as a new mom, felt rather meek about stuff like this. Time was, I would have obeyed the lifeguard at Current unquestioningly, and slunk off to the bathroom to nurse my baby. I am so thankful was have moms like Kris Laroche to stand up for all of us.

I also hope the conversation will serve as a reminder to businesses, agencies and organizations – both public and private – to brush up on Montana’s breastfeeding laws as well. It’s not enough just to post a sign in the window declaring your support of breastfeeding. You have to make sure you – and your employees – understand what that means. And that includes making it clear that moms have the right to breastfeed their babies in public places.

– MM

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