AD­VEN­TURE

The Covington News - - Front page -

out­side of the bud­get cuts, but he be­lieved the state was go­ing to be lean­ing more on ex­ist­ing com­mu­nity ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions and non-prof­its.

As an ex­am­ple, Ni­chol­son said DJJ hadn’t placed any chil­dren in PA Kids’ group homes for the past six months. For each child PA Kids would house, it re­ceived be­tween $88 and $106 per day. Los­ing much of that fund­ing while still hav­ing the up­keep costs of 16 homes was cost­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion too much money.

Steve Hayes, DJJ’s di­rec­tor of me­dia re­la­tions, said the depart­ment still used “out-of-home” pro­grams but had less money to do so. As of FY2009, DJJ was plac­ing be­tween 30 and 40 kids in PA Kids’ pro­grams per month.

He said the DJJ youth placed at PA Kids have been moved to other pro­grams across the state but said the level of ser­vices may not be the same at these other fa­cil­i­ties. DFCS sends more chil­dren to PA Kids than DJJ, but no of­fi­cial from DFCS could be reached Tues­day.

PA Kids had four pro­grams: sub­stance abuse, sex of­fender, emer­gency shel­ter, and in­de­pen­dent liv­ing. Vol­un­teer coun­sel­ing in­tern Carolyn Tucker said PA Kids was con­sid­ered an in­ter­me­di­ary care fa­cil­ity, that helps kids tran­si­tion back into the out­side world af­ter be­ing in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized.

Once kids are con­victed of an of­fense they are sent to a max­i­mum treat­ment fa­cil­ity, where chil­dren would typ­i­cally be su­per­vised 24 hours a day and pos­si­bly re­strained in an in­sti­tute, Ni­chol­son said. They of­ten need more in­tense psy­cho­log­i­cal coun- sel­ing. Tucker com­pared it to a triage treat­ment.

Then a kid would be sent to PA Kids, which fo­cused on help­ing kids suc­cess­fully tran­si­tion back to liv­ing with their fam­i­lies and in their com­mu­nity. Tucker said her work was longer-term and in­cluded pro­grams like help­ing sex­ual of­fend­ers deal with their own past sex­ual abuse. Of­ten chil­dren who are sex­u­ally abused can be­come sex­ual of­fend­ers.

For sub­stance abusers, PA Kids would help them make good de­ci­sions and de­velop a plan for liv­ing with­out peers who would be bad in­flu­ences.

The fi­nal step in the child ser­vices sys­tem would be con­tin­u­ing work with com­mu­nity groups that con­duct men­tor­ing and tu­tor­ing pro­grams. With­out PA Kids, more chil­dren may have to rely on com­mu­nity ser­vices.

Ni­chol­son said Project Ad­ven­ture’s cor­po­rate of­fice in Mas­sachusetts made the de­ci­sion to close the Newton County pro­gram. PA Kids is hav­ing an as­set liq­ui­da­tion sale be­gin­ning Mon­day.

While most treat­ment took place at the Elks Club Road fa­cil­ity and school cam­pus, about 15 per­cent of chil­dren at­tended Chal­lenge Char­ter Academy. Ni­chol­son said this school is re­main­ing open; it has an en­roll­ment of around 120.

The clos­ing of PA Kids will af­fect the en­tire state. Only be­tween 2 and 5 per­cent of chil­dren were from Newton County.

“Speak­ing specif­i­cally about Newton County, we had a lot of kids from DFCS placed here be­cause it was close to their fam­i­lies, mak­ing re­uni­fi­ca­tion a lot eas­ier. Now we’re forc­ing these same kids and par­ents to travel 20 to 100 miles to make sure the meet­ings are done,” Nich- olson said. “This hurts the whole state of Ge­or­gia, be­cause 115 beds have been lost in the state.”

With­out PA Kids, Newton County is left with very few group home fa­cil­i­ties. Ac­cord­ing to the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Hu­man Re­sources Of­fice of Reg­u­la­tory Ser­vices, 10 of the 11 of­fi­cial group homes were op­er­ated by Project Ad­ven­ture.

Tucker is just one of hun­dreds of pre­vi­ous vol­un­teers who will miss the abil­ity to change chil­dren’s lives.

“I can­not tell you the won­der­ful work be­ing done there with these peo­ple. I went to it at the be­gin­ning of my in­tern­ship and was just blown away at the hope and re­gard for the clients, and just the change I would see in these young peo­ple af­ter be­ing there for a while,” Tucker said. “It’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent from a kid in one of the ju­ve­nile jails.”

She said it’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to get to at-risk teens when their young. Ac­cord­ing to PA Kids stats, only 12 per­cent of its clients will re­of­fend, while adult pe­dophiles are con­sid­ered un­able to be re­ha­bil­i­tated.

Ni­chol­son said its pos­si­ble PA Kids could re­open in the fu­ture, but it would need sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial sup­port. Tucker said she be­lieved PA Kids would need around $500,000.

While the group homes are be­ing sold, Ni­chol­son said Project Ad­ven­ture is ex­plor­ing the op­tion of us­ing the Elks Club Fa­cil­ity as some sort of multi-use fa­cil­ity.

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