Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why you should get a second opinion about your lawyer

I am often mystified by the decisions that people make, the ones that clearly go against logic, that arise from an apparent lack of meaningful priorities.

We are all aware of someone who spends hours on-line researching a potential television purchase. This person may journey to numerous stores to check out the best selection and look for the greatest value for a limited budget. There may even be some ancillary considerations, a stand, screen protector or other gadgets to engross the purchaser in the complete viewing experience.

This person may go so far as to shop around when looking for a daycare provider for his or her child. The same dedication that went into reading product reviews of the gargantuan televisions may also be replicated to some degree investigating the licensing applications for the various daycare providers under consideration.

When it comes time to select the practitioner that may represent the interest of a parent in seeking to maintain the custody of his or her child often times a simple phone book advertisement will suffice. This decision can have consequence for a prolonged time, quite possibly the rest of your life and how your child views you. Yet so many are complacent to simply divest themselves of this awesome responsibility to the hands and mind of a financially motivated mouthpiece.

There are also financial considerations that would outweigh the cost of practically any other financial decision one could make in life. Child support payments can be ordered that often cripple or financially destroy a parent and lead to bankruptcy or sometimes imprisonment. Yet, parents will often abstain from the care and dedication given to selecting many services when it comes to selecting an attorney.

As I write this, just a few hours before a highly anticipated dental appointment that should relieve a great amount of pain, I think of how most people view the dental process. They know it is something they must face but want to be numb to the process. I once tried it without the painful injections that would keep me from feeling the piercing drill grinding away at the nerve in my tooth. The painful shoots became a pleasure the next time.

Often times when facing a major life decision, often medical, recommended by a professional we seek a second opinion. Sometimes there is an ethical obligation for the professional to recommend it. The legal process is no different and recognizes that itself to some degree. The framers of our constitution realized that judges and attorneys would make mistakes. Thus, they established reviewing courts; the court of appeals and the supreme court.

These courts often, but not always, are called upon to arbitrate disagreement among attorneys as to what the decision of the trial court should have been. Simply stated, lawyers do not agree on what the law means, how it applies or what evidence to present. The legal system is well aware of this. They even carry insurance to compensate the victims of their folly.

Still, this is an area where most people won't seek a second opinion. Like dentistry, family law is often muddled with pain and a desire to avoid it altogether. Most people just want to be numb to this also. Unfortunately, it only takes one party to make the unilateral decision that the court will be involved in one of the most important decisions of your life. Thus, at that point the train has already left the station and you better jump on board quick, with both eyes wide open.

This month I was called upon to assist in an adoption case brought about by a CPS action to terminate a mother's parental rights. CPS and the court were not following the law. This was going to be a complex and difficult case to pursue since the state actors involved were refusing to comply with statutory mandates. The party who sought my assistance was in no way prepared to take this on with only coaching and explanations of the rules. As someone who is not an attorney I could not go appear on his behalf and make the necessary demands.

So, I found a competent attorney for him who I trust and who has experience with the adverse parties. After my client met with him he called me and praised me for the assistance I provided to him. He was pleased with my selection of an attorney to fight for custody of the three children. Then he laid it on me; I'll call you if I ever need you again. "There's no since in paying two of you."

This is where I just don't get it. Possibly it is that litigants don't get it. Why, in a case as important as child custody, would someone not want to have two minds working on a case together. I don't mind saying that I am very well informed about child custody issues. It is the life I live. Some people play video games when bored, I read the latest Court of Appeals decisions in custody cases. I am a logical person and can view a situation from multiple perspectives.

I can build a client's negative into a positive. I can tear down the client's or his or her attorney's perceive positive attribute just as opposing counsel would. When a client mentioned to me the damaging evidence against the child's mother I tore it apart. He was excited that his daughter, who is age 9, called him to say that mommy started speaking weird and then went to 'sleep' on the floor. He didn't call 911 but called to the house about a half hour later and spoke with the mother who had regained consciousness after passing out from alcohol abuse.

Why did I not immediately rejoice with him about the damaging evidence against his child's mother? I did not think it was a strategically prudent move to go into court and admit that he was aware of but did nothing to remove his child from a neglectful situation; being in a house at night alone with a mother who is passed out. By not notifying authorities he was committing a crime in addition to admitting he left his daughter in a neglectful situation.

IC 31-33-5-1
Duty to make report
Sec. 1. In addition to any other duty to report arising under this article, an individual who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect shall make a report as required by this article.

IC 31-33-22-1
Failure to make report
Sec. 1. (a) A person who knowingly fails to make a report required by IC 31-33-5-1 commits a Class B misdemeanor.
(b) A person who knowingly fails to make a report required by IC 31-33-5-2 commits a Class B misdemeanor. This penalty is in addition to the penalty imposed by subsection (a).

Don't be intimidated by the law and just leave it in the hands of someone else. Just like in any licensed profession the practitioners are only as good as the work they perform. Don't let your case be the one where it is discovered that an attorney has made a mistake.

So, what do I want you to take from my post today? Don't do it alone. You may not need to hire me to help you find an attorney or make sure the one you already have is effectively advocating for you. I do think it is a good idea though. But, you do need someone other than yourself to be able to take an objective look at your case and if your are being adequately represented.

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Make a suggestion for me to write about.

Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

Connect with me for the latest Indiana child custody related policy considerations, findings, court rulings and discussions.

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©2008, 2010 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Your attorney is YOU or How to select an attorney

There is no magical process in selecting an attorney. I could write a guide on how to select an attorney but just as trial law is an art so is this process. If you are not going to represent yourself in court then the most important decision you will make is selecting who will be your counsel. A recent case underscores this importance.

Gregory L Kennedy owned property in the Town of Gaston, Indiana that was not maintained in compliance with the town's weed law and also contained an unsafe building. Apparently Kennedy did not comply with remediation requests by the town so the town sued him in the superior court of the county. A week later Kennedy transferred the property through quit claim deed to avoid culpability.

This story goes on and there are some interesting points made about jurisdiction but that is not my purpose in bringing Kennedy v Town of Gaston to your attention.

There is a section in the decision by the Court of Appeals that underscores what I often tell clients and why it is of vital importance to have assistance in selecting a lawyer to represent you. Throughout the process Kennedy had a revolving door representation. One of his attorneys came to an agreement with the Town which Kennedy was then bound by. Ultimately, Kennedy was found in contempt of court and sanctioned. He then appealed.

The relevant part of the opinion follows:

During the recess, counsel for the respective parties signed a handwritten minute entry stating “Evidence heard + concluded, [Kennedy], agrees to remove + demolish buildings from property w/in 30 days.” (Appellant’s App. p. 92). The entry was prepared and signed by the Town’s counsel and signed by Kennedy’s counsel. The trial court’s Order of August 28, 2008 reflects the minute entry by concluding “[Kennedy] shall have 30 days from August 15, 2008 within which to remove and demolish said buildings and debris located at 104 S. Sycamore Street, Gaston, Indiana[.]” (Appellant’s App p. 93). Kennedy’s counsel later withdrew her representation.

On September 17, 2008, Kennedy’s new counsel filed a Verified Motion to Correct Error claiming that (1) an administrative hearing should have preceded the commencement of any civil action under the Unsafe Building Law and (2) while Kennedy’s first counsel signed an Entry indicating that Kennedy had agreed to remove and demolish buildings from the property, at no time did Kennedy indicate to anyone he would agree to this.

Unfortunately for Kennedy he did agree to the stipulations contained in the minute entry. Kennedy's attorney was acting in his behalf pursuant to a representation agreement which became part of the court process when Kennedy's attorney filed his appearance.

It's not much different than designating someone as your health care representative should you become unable to make decisions regarding your own health care. The time to second-guess you representative selection is not when you wake up without an arm you would have wanted saved regardless of the ability to use.

So I implore you to make your selection of an attorney wisely and discuss all possible outcomes before those opportunities present themselves and you are bound to them without knowing it.

I have seen far too many people spend tens of thousand of dollars and get adverse results in their child custody battles because I think they employed a telephone book selection process in choosing their attorney. If it is not me then make sure it is someone who is familiar with your court, your wishes and the complexities, if any, of your case before choosing an attorney to represent you and, in a manner, be you before the court.

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Make a suggestion for me to write about.

Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

Connect with me for the latest Indiana child custody related policy considerations, findings, court rulings and discussions.

View Stuart Showalter's profile on LinkedIn

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©2008, 2010 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Commission on Indiana Child Support and Parenting Time laws and guidelines

After spending all day Friday in a meeting with the Domestic Relations Committee of the Indiana Supreme Court and then an InCRA board meeting followed by the Citizen Journalism Boot Camp, hosted by the Indiana Coalition for Open Government, all day Saturday I am ready to get the discussion going on this commission.

The purpose of the Commission on Indiana Child Support and Parenting Time laws and guidelines was established for the purpose of creating better laws and policies in the State of Indiana related to child custody and support. Going through the legislative process in this last session of the Indiana General Assembly convinced me that the best way to write law is not to hold a hearing two weeks before the session is to end and have problems or concerns with the proposed law first raised then.

Anyone who followed Senate Bill 0059, Grandparent Visitation Bill, knows exactly what I am talking about. Concerns were raised, amendments were hurriedly crafted and additional hearings were held. It also happened with SB0178, Paternity Affidavit Amendment, in which the bill ultimately went to a Conference Committee to reconcile language in the amendments before it ultimately passed with unanimous support.

To those of you who have already agreed to participate in this group through the e-mail discussion I appreciate that you will be taking time from your busy schedule to provide input and assist in the law and rule making process. If you are a stakeholder such as a mental health professional, judge [current or former] or juvenile social worker and would like to be added to the discussion group please contact me with your request.

If you are an interested person who simply wants to get involved in the discussion but is not a regular advisor to the policy writers or lawmakers then you may post to our subject specific discussions on FaceBook. You may find that you get invited to participate in the policy and law writing process by being on the Commission.

The 2010 session of the Indiana General Assembly has not been over long and we are now ready to take up the challenge of making Indiana a more child friendly state. So, I hope you are ready to read the relevant laws and rules and get your thoughts on them put to paper so to say.

Our immediate concern will be the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines [IPTG] because of timeliness. The Domestic Relations Committee [DRC] of the Judicial Conference of Indiana met on Friday 19 March 2010 to establish the process by which public input would be taken and revisions made to the IPTG. You may read more about that here.

A public hearing will be held on 21 May 2010 from 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 noon in the Indiana Supreme Court chambers. Written comments are being taken now through the time of the public hearing.

Please take the time to review the IPTG and make any comments to the group for discussion. One area that the DRC has expressed concern over is that the Guidelines are being used as a standard and not as a minimum time that a child should be given the opportunity to interact with a non-custodial parent [NCP].

Two other areas that appear to cause some confusion or additional litigation are Opportunities for Additional Parenting Time, commonly referred to as first-right-of-refusal, and regular parenting time following holiday time where it would result in the NCP not having the child(ren) for three consecutive weekends.

I propose that Opportunities for Additional Parenting Time are triggered when a "household" family member is unable to provide care for the child. My reasoning is that if the child must be transported elsewhere [grandparents house] or someone has to come to the house then those people are acting as a sitter not a household member engaging in a regular course of conduct who may also care for the child in place of the parent.

There are numerous other changes that I have already prepared but I will let you start submitting your ideas and comments first.

The next project we have been asked to debate is a Shared Parenting bill that was introduced as Senate Bill 560 in 2009 but was never heard in committee. Please provide comment on what you support and oppose in this bill. There is substantial support in the Indiana General Assembly for a presumption that both parents who provided and cared for the child(ren) prior to divorce will continue to do so. Also, that to restrict or deny a child access to a parent a judge must articulate specific findings as to why that access should be restricted.

Any topic or specific proposal that you wish to discuss can be submitted to the group for discussion. Please keep in mind that messages are not attributed to the specific author and that BCC is used for group e-mails.

The more voices that we can bring to this discussion the better laws and policies we will create for the children in Indiana and the nation as we become an innovator in family law.


Indiana Custodial Rights Advocates

©2010 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Public Hearing on Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines revisions

The Domestic Relations Committee [DRC] of the Judicial Conference of Indiana met on Friday 19 March 2010 to establish the process by which public input would be taken and revisions made to the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines [IPTG].

In attendance were Cynthia Longest of the Child Support Bureau and Robert Monday of PACE along with Jason Cannon, Chris Ochs and Stuart Showalter of Indiana Shared Parenting and InCRA. Ms Longest explained some of the provisions of the recently adopted Senate Bill 163 also known as the Gambling Intercept Law. Mr Monday and Mr Showalter explained the effect of Senate Bill 178 which was signed by Governor Daniels a week earlier and is known as the Paternity Affidavit amendment.

Committee members discussed some concerns about the IPTG and a process for amending them. It was encouraging to hear the terms Shared Parenting and Parenting Time Coordination used throughout the session. InCRA provided resource materials on Virtual Visitation for the Committees review and consideration. The Committee decided upon a process that will include receiving written comments and testimony at a public hearing. Then a draft proposal will be posted and additional public comment taken on the proposals.

Judicial officers, parents, mental health professionals, attorneys, and members of the public are invited to submit written comments to the DRC by 21 May 2010. Interested parties may submit written comments by mailing them to the Indiana Judicial Center, Domestic Relations Committee, 30 South Meridian Street, Suite 900, Indianapolis, IN 46204-3564.

A public hearing will be held on Friday 21 May 2010 from 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 noon in the Indiana Supreme Court chambers on the third floor of the Indiana State House in Indianapolis. Interested parties may attend and/or speak at the public hearing. However, speakers will be limited to no more than five minutes each. Persons planning to speak should contact Jeffrey Bercovitz at 317.232.1313.

The Committee will have additional meetings on 16 July, 20 August, 22 October and 19 November. These are meetings conducted in public but are not public input sessions. Interested persons wanting to make comments to the Committee should do so at the public hearing or by sending comments to the Committee.

People who intend to testify should observe some procedural guidelines. These are my own recommendations but are based upon my previous testimony to the Committee and interactions with the Indiana General Assembly.

Observe the time limit. A yellow light will display as you enter your last minute. A red light indicates you have reached your five minutes. One sentence after this is acceptable. I and other stakeholders will make presentations based upon longstanding involvement with the IPTG and input from numerous sources. This does not mean you should not testify but if you hear something from one of us that you were planning to say then simply mention that you agree with what that person said and then add your personal dynamic to it.

Public testimony is not a time to plead your individual case. You may have been denied due process or not received parenting time that is most suitable to you. However, if it does not apply generally then it should not be mentioned. If you and the ex can't understand from the Guidelines when it is required that additional parenting time be offered if a sitter is needed then make a comment to the Committee about that.

I suggest that when you plan to testify make your testimony in writing and provide 12 copies for the Committee members. That way they have all of it even if you don't testify to much of it. Finally, if you intend to submit written comments but not testify submit your written comments in person at the public hearing and offer to answer any questions.

This is your opportunity to affect nearly every child custody case in Indiana. Please take advantage of it.


Indiana Custodial Rights Advocates

©2010 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Indiana's New Paternity Law

Governor Mitch Daniels signed into law on Friday 12 March 2010 a bill that gives unmarried parents the opportunity to select joint legal custody on the paternity affidavit while at the hospital. The bill passed both houses of the Indiana General Assembly with unanimous support.

Senate Bill 178
came to life after three years of efforts by Robert Monday of the Children's Rights Council to eliminate gender discrimination in Indiana's paternity laws. The bill as introduced would have mandated that both natural parents have joint legal custody of the child just as married couples do. It also provided that the putative father would have parenting time pursuant to the minimums established by the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.

In the first hearing before the Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters there was testimony that this bill would mandate joint legal custody for parents who may have little or no contact with each other. Some Senators agreed and the bill was just one vote shy of being killed in committee headed by Senator Brent Steele who introduced the bill.

Stuart Showalter, Legislative Liaison for Indiana Shared Parenting, met with each member of the committee to discuss the bill and came away with a solution. Senator Tim Lanane proposed the idea that a check off box be added to the paternity affidavit that would allow the parents to choose joint legal custody.

Steele, Lanane, Monday and Showalter met to revise the language in the bill. After doing so the bill was referred to the Senate where it passed by a vote of 49-1. In the first hearing before the House Committee on Family, Children and Human Affairs there was testimony that unmarried parents generally are not as committed in their relationships as married parents.

In that hearing Kerry Blomquist of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence said that this bill mandates joint legal custody and would be used by fathers to control the mothers. She also said that married parents do not always agree on how to raise a child and therefore should not have joint legal custody.

Committee Chair Vanessa Summers then turned over the hearing to Showalter to speak in favour of the bill. Showalter offered a quick solution to Bloomquist's concerns about unmarried parents not agreeing on major issues: mandate marriage for all parents because married parents always agree. Once the laughter subsided substantive issues were discussed.

It was decided that the bill would be amended to include language that the parents could view the affidavit separately, that if either was a minor he or she could consult with a parent or guardian and that if a genetic test proved the putative father was not the biological father then the affidavit was void. Showalter met with representatives and worked on language for the amendments.

The bill was sent to the House where it passed with a vote of 95-0. Unfortunately, the amendments didn't have the language as precise as needed or discussed. This is always a danger in writing overnight amendments. To correct the situation the bill had to be sent to conference committee.

This is where two senators and two representatives meet to write precise language for the bill. If all do not agree then the bill dies at that point. Conference on this bill took place in the hallway with about 20 people discussing the amendments.

The bill was modified slightly in that a minor parent may have the opportunity to consult with any adult and would have to sign an acknowledgement of receiving that opportunity. A technical change made the affidavit voidable rather than void since only a court may void a paternity affidavit.

So starting later this year unmarried parents will be presented with a new paternity affidavit at the hospital. It will do the following:
~ require that it be presented to and signed by the parents separately;
~ allow parents to select joint legal custody;
~ provide the opportunity for a minor parent to speak with an adult prior to signing the affidavit;
~ contain an advisement that if a genetic test determines that the putative father is not the biological father that the paternity affidavit is voidable; and,
~ contain an advisement that a genetic test must be submitted to the local health department within 60 days for the affidavit to be voidable.

This bill was the result of dedication by legislators and lobbyists working together through at least 20 meetings and numerous hearings and conferences. As the 2011 legislative session approaches many more family law issues will be presented to legislators. It will be necessary to have at least five lobbyists working on these issues.

If you are interested in assisting in this effort please contact us.


Indiana Custodial Rights Advocates

©2010 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Garbology" and child custody hearings

In 2005 the Indiana Court of Appeals had the opportunity to address the issue of 'garbology' which is founded upon, in the more common vernacular, dumpster-diving. This is simply a method of analyzing personal habits and lifestyle through the process of examining what one discards in their curbside trash.

There is an expectation of privacy that one has in or about their home. In fact, it is provided for in our state constitution. Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution provides, in relevant part: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search or seizure, shall not be violated.” This right turns upon who is being protected from whom.

There is no right or expectation of privacy from intrusion by a person. The right protects "the people" from intrusion by the government. The Indiana Supreme Court has observed that the “[s]eizure of trash that is in its usual location for pickup is no intrusion at all on the owner’s liberty or property interests” because the owner of the property wants, and indeed expects, the trash to be taken away. Litchfield, 824 N.E.2d at 363; see also Love v. State, 842 N.E.2d 420, 425 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006). That is, once left at the curb your trash becomes part of the public domain as it is your intent to discard it.

However, “it is not reasonable for law enforcement to search indiscriminately through people’s trash.” Litchfield, 824 N.E.2d at 363. Thus, in some criminal prosecutions the evidence obtained by police searching through trash has been quashed by the courts on the basis that the police did not have probable cause to search the trash.

Still, a child custody hearing is not a criminal prosecution and I am not a government actor. In California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35, 39 (1988), the United States Supreme Court upheld the warrantless search of the defendant’s garbage left at the curb for pickup, holding that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. When the police cannot be restricted from accessing your trash without a warrant then neither can I.

The case of Leisure v Wheeler has provided a good account of how a garbage inventory is used at trial. In this case the Father hired an investigator to gather garbage from Mother's home for two consecutive weeks. The investigator did so and then inventoried the contents, and then testified at the hearing about what he found. Mother objected to the investigator's testimony on the basis that he was testifying as an expert without a proper foundation. The trial court permitted him to testify over Mother's objection.

Indiana Evidence Rule 702 provides that expert opinion is admissible only if the court is satisfied that the scientific principles upon which the expert testimony rests are reliable. Mother maintains that the scientific principles underlying "garbology" are not reliable. The appeals court did not reach that issue because his testimony was not opinion testimony.

The investigator testified that he found certain items in the garbage he retrieved from Mother's home. Specifically, he reported that during each of the two separate garbage retrievals he found five bottles of Seagram's 7, eleven packs of Virginia Slims cigarettes, five or six packs of Camel filter cigarettes, and fast-food containers, among the other items in the garbage. He also testified that he recovered Zig Zag rolling papers and a plant stem that he believed was marijuana. He explicitly testified that he was not telling the trial court how Mother and her current husband lived:
A: It just shows that people eat out a lot. That's all I said. I'm not telling you how they live. I'm just telling you that when I see a lot of fast food, it gives me reason to assume that these people eat out a lot.
Q: But you are telling us how they live. You're telling us they consume alcohol, they smoke cigarettes, they don't cook home-cooked meals. Isn't that how they live?
A: I'm not telling you what their home is. I'm not in their home watching them. This is what I get from their inventory ... from their garbage. I can't tell you exactly what I saw them physically drink. I can't tell you that I saw them doing these ... this is what I found in their garbage.

The Court opinion that it would not place its imprimatur on this type of investigative work. The Court went further stating, " . . . the issue before us is not whether we accept garbology as good practice. Rather, the issue we are asked to address is whether this was expert opinion testimony that required a proper foundation before being admitted. In light of the fact that [the investigator] merely testified regarding what he found in the garbage and took strides to explain that he was simply reporting what he found, we find that he did not offer opinion testimony. We cannot say that the trial court erred by permitting [him] to testify over Mother's objection."

Indiana Code 31-17-2-8(6) requires that a court hearing a child custody placement matter consider "[t]he mental and physical health of all individuals involved." There are clear inferences that can be made about the mental and physical health of individuals by what is found in their trash.

So, don't worry about Big Brother that is just me out there hanging off that garbage truck and tossing your trash onto a tarp.

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Make a suggestion for me to write about.

Parents who would like to achieve the best outcome for their children in a contested child custody case should visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me. Attorneys may request a free consultation to learn how I can maximize their advocacy for their clients.

Connect with me for the latest Indiana child custody related policy considerations, findings, court rulings and discussions.

View Stuart Showalter's profile on LinkedIn

Subscribe to my child custody updates

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©2008, 2010 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Inducing premature puberty in girls - precocious puberty

I have noticed an alarming trend concerning the upbringing or development of young girls. That is, there is a purposeful effort to prematurely induce puberty in girls. I cannot speak to this from a point of understanding as I simply do not understand why a parent would want to abuse a child in this manner, so I can only speculate. What I do know is that it is not natural and causes harm to these girls.

There are parents who live vicariously through their children, pushing them to excel in academics, sports or achieve fame or popularity where the parents, themselves, failed. These parents need to step back and let their children have their own life. Similarly, especially in split families, parents may tend to focus more on being a friend to their child rather than a parent by not wanting to be seen as the "mean one".

This is not an indictment of single mothers, but I have observed that I see this most often in this demographic. Young girls lack the discipline and controls in a female headed household that are more often in place in a male headed household. This can have significant consequences for these young girls including juvenile delinquency, poor school performance, self-destructive behaviours and pregnancy.

The "best friend" mothers may also, regardless of intention, try to develop these girls prematurely which can have severe or longterm psychological problems. The problem is greater than this and much more widespread though.

No single demographic is responsible for this alarming trend though. It is done by mother and fathers, rich and poor, married or single. I will present some statistics, causes, harms and potential remedies for premature puberty in girls.

Many parents consider the late pre-teen or early teen years to be the normal time for the onset of puberty. They may be shocked to learn that revised guidelines for pediatricians indicate a much earlier time to be normal. Girls who start to develop breasts and pubic hair at age six or seven are not necessarily "abnormal" [fn1]. In fact, by their ninth birthday, 48% of African American girls and 15% of white girls are showing clear signs of puberty.

Many young girls in early elementary school are developing breasts and pubic hair and are too young to understand the emotional mood swings and other symptoms of adolescence. In addition, the long-term health implications for cancer and other diseases are unknown, but there is reason to be concerned.

A study by Marcia Herman-Giddens, DrPH, and her colleagues at University of North Carolina School of Public Health examined more than 17,000 girls between the ages of three and 12 who were patients in more than 200 pediatricians’ offices across the country.

Results found that in their seventh year, 27% of African-American girls and 7% of white girls had begun breast development and/or had pubic hair. Between ages eight and nine, those numbers had increased to 48% of African-American girls and 15% of white girls. Also at age eight, 17% of African-American girls and 2% of white girls had axillary hair.

Menarche occurred in the girls’ eleventh year for 28% of African-American girls and 13% of white girls. At age 12, 62% of African-American girls and 35% of white girls had begun menstruating. For white girls in the US, the age of first menstruation has remained stable over the past 45 years. In African-American girls, age at menarche has declined by about 6 months in the past 20 to 30 years. The authors felt that the change in age at menarche in African-American girls may be due to their coming closer to achieving optimal nutritional and health status.

The mean onset age for breast development was 8.9 years for African-American girls and 10.0 for white girls. Pubic hair onset began at age 8.8 for African-American girls and 10.5 for white girls. Axillary hair appeared at the average age of 10.1 in African-American girls and 11.8 in white girls. All of the characteristics emerged significantly earlier in African-American girls both with and without controlling for height and weight.

We know that puberty is occurring earlier but more importantly we need to know what is the potential harm. Girls who begin puberty sooner than normal experience an early growth spurt resulting in an initial height disparity. But because their bones stop growing after puberty, they never reach their full height potential. Early estrogen production leads to an increased risk of breast cancer because breast tissue is exposed to the hormone for a longer period of time. Girls who get their period before age 8 are also at greater risk for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which cysts grow in the ovaries and can interfere with fertility.

In addition to potential physical harms are the social and psychological issues that these girls may face.

Maturing young girls will have to cope with their own confusing sexual feelings as well as the impact that their maturing appearance has on boys and men. Studies of young girls indicate that those who develop early are more likely to be depressed, aggressive, socially withdrawn, and moody [fn2]. Studies of teens indicate that girls who developed early are more likely to be sexually active, have more problems in school, and are more likely to smoke and use alcohol and drugs [fn3].

To begin remedying this problem it is necessary to know the causes and what steps can be taken to undo these.

Diet seems to be the main environmental influence on early puberty. The rate of obesity in American children ages 2 to 11 has nearly tripled over the last few decades [fn4]. Fat cells can trigger puberty. They produce estrogen, as well as the hormone leptin, which can stimulate the release of the hormones that trigger puberty. Girls who are overweight also produce excess insulin which can stimulate the ovaries and adrenal glands to release more sex hormones. A 2003 study found that nearly 60 percent of girls with precocious puberty were overweight [fn5].

Researchers are also looking to another environmental factor being the wide use of plastic, especially in food and beverage containers. Many plastics including those used in baby bottles, water bottles and as a coating in food and beverage cans contain Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a chemical used to make plastics more flexible. Scientists are concerned about BPA's behavioral effects on fetuses, infants, and children because it can affect the prostate gland, mammary gland, and lead to early puberty in girls. BPA mimics and interferes with the action of estrogen. It leaches out of plastic into liquids and foods, especially when the plastic is heated. The CDC found measurable amounts of BPA in the bodies of more than 90 percent of the U.S. population studied.

Scientist believe that chemicals which mimic hormones, called endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs, which include BPA, along with pesticides, compounds in cigarettes, and phthalates - an aroma stabilizer in lotions and shampoos - are partially to blame for this phenomena. However, the U.S. government does not currently test chemicals for their effects on human hormonal systems even though many girls are exposed to them every day. The European Union is only just starting to do testing and regulating.

There is one overwhelming factor that is now starting to receive more attention because the harm being done is outweighing the political and financial benefits of ignoring the problem and cause.

Divorce is now becoming a leading theory for early maturation in girls. It’s been documented that girls not living with a biological father tend to mature earlier. A study by a University of Arizona researcher and a colleague offers some insight on a phenomenon affecting girls who grow up in homes minus their biological fathers, and why they tend to go through puberty at an earlier age than their peers in intact families.

Professor Bruce J. Ellis, the John and Doris Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting and Families at the UA Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, and Jacqueline M. Tither at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, published their study in the journal Developmental Psychology.

The study was conducted using sisters of significant age differences from both intact and divorced families. The researches tried to use sisters whose parents divorced when one was still young while the other was older. This allowed for them to see if there was a causal effect of the father's absence on the development of the younger sister. "Our study showed that more exposure to father absence was linked to earlier puberty," Ellis said.

He continued, "The idea is that children adjust their development to match the environments in which they live. In the world in which humans evolved, dangerous or unstable home environments meant a shorter lifespan, and going into puberty earlier in this context increased chances of surviving, reproducing and passing on your genes."
It is not enough to simply have the presence of a father in the home. It is critical that the father have an active positive relationship with his daughter's. Additionally, a replacement father figure may actually speed up the maturation process.

Girls living in step-families are almost twice as likely to reach early puberty as girls from non-divorced homes. While only 18per cent of girls from intact homes started menstruating by 11 or younger, this applied to 25 per cent of girls in divorce homes and 35 per cent in step-families.

These are the findings of psychologist Mavis Hetherington and co-author John Kelly who published their results in the book For Better or For Worse. The study examined 1400 families covering nearly three decades.

They theorize this may result from the fact that in many animal species, the presence of a strange male is an environmental cue that induces sexual readiness in young females. Children have evolved to naturally avoid sexual relations with siblings and parents. Hence early menarche may be triggered by the presence of a ``strange male" in the household as these girls bodies prepare themselves for sexual relations with the step-father.

The critical time for exposure to the "strange male" seems to be the first five to seven years of life, when the pathways to puberty are set down. Dr Ellis speculates that an environmentally triggered process shunts the girl towards a particular reproductive strategy. This process may be influenced by male pheromones secreted by the body. The pheromones of unrelated males apparently accelerate puberty development while the scent of the biological father may delay maturation.

Research has consistently shown that girls from divorced families are sexually active at a younger age, have a greater number of partners and are at greater risk of early pregnancy. Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Greg is intrigued by the Ellis's research. ``It does gel with what I have observed in families. I think it has huge implications," Dr Carr-Gregg says.

Other theories include stress, such as that coming from a divorce, is a factor that causes early onset of puberty in girls. However, Dr Ellis's research shows no impact on the timing of puberty from stressful relationships in intact families, but finds that conflict between parents in the step-family does contribute to early maturation.

For David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America, the message from the Ellis's and Hetherington's data is clear: ``If we want young girls to delay sex and childbearing, having a loving biological father on the premises is a good idea, while having unrelated men on the premises is not."

So what can you do?

The simplest remedies may lie in what you can change today. Larry Kushi, associate director of research at Kaiser Permanente, points to data suggesting that girls with relatively low-fat, high-fiber diets tend to develop later. The benefits of proper diet help boys and girls in many ways. No parent should be exposing their children to HFCS, artificial food colours and flavorings or plastic food containers which contain BPA.

It’s difficult to control chemical exposures in the U.S., because the government (unlike Denmark’s) does not require chemical ingredients to be labeled in personal care products as it does in food. However, there are easy steps that can be taken to limit exposure. These include avoiding personal care products that contain fragrances.

Girls should also play sports and get regular exercise. The is evidence that physical exercise reduces mental fatigue and stress. Additionally maintaining proper weight is important. Parents should always be limiting pre-packaged or fast food meals for children to two per week and less for those who are already overweight.

What seems to have been demonstrated to have the greatest impact for pre-pubescent girls is the presence of a biological father in the household. Women who give birth to girls without ensuring the presence of a nurturing biological father in the home are inflicting harm upon their daughters. The most abusive are those who seek to reduce the involvement of the father through divorce and seeking to have sole physical custody of the children.

1] Kaplowitz, et al., 1999
2] Sonis, et al., 1985
3] Phinney, et al., 1990; Ge, et al., 1996; Graber, et al., 1997
4] CDC
5] Davison et al.

Some material in this article was collected from Bettina Arndt, Diana Zuckerman Ph.D., and Jeff Harrison

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