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Youth Program aimed at getting foster children back in school

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Three brothers, ages 17, 15 and 11, haven't been in school for two years, in violation of state attendance laws.

The trio quit school after they were put in foster care, and officials from the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services are not allowed to say why.

They are part of a segment of Clayton County's student population being targeted as part of a pilot program established by officials from DFCS to get them back into the classroom. Foster children who have not been attending school for some time are sent to the Riverdale-based Youth Empowerment Project for tutoring before returning to school.

The program also will help them prepare for the General Educational Development equivalency diploma (GED) exam.

"What we see here, especially with teenagers, is that it's not unusual for them to abandon education," said Bob Brown, DFCS' social services program director. "These are kids that'll end up on the streets, or in jail."

About half of all 15 year olds in foster homes are likely to graduate from high school, while the rest will either drop out or be incarcerated, according to Casey Family Programs, a group that studies foster care issues.

Since the pilot program began in June, 15 children living in foster homes have been sent to YEP to get their education back on track. Officials have been pleased with the program so far, and are considering taking it to a regional level since Cathy Ratti, director of Clayton County DFCS, also oversees the state DFCS' 16th region, which includes Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties.

Chuck Fischer, the deputy director of Clayton County DFCS, said the idea for the program was developed two years ago when Ratti saw a high-school-age girl, who was in foster care, sitting in the lobby of the agency's office in Jonesboro. The girl was coming into the office every day, and sitting out in the lobby, chatting on her cell phone.

"Everybody kept wondering what she was doing here during school hours," Fischer said.

Officials at DFCS turned to YEP for help getting the program off the ground because several of them, like Brown, have known YEP's Executive Director Glenn Dowell for as many as 12 years.

Any expansion of the program to new areas would likely entail more Supplemental Education Services providers, like Dowell's group, signing up with DFCS. Officials with DFCS and YEP are still trying to figure out a method of measuring student success for the foster children.

"We're trying to empower these children academically," said Dowell. "If we don't empower them, there will be truancy, and then they'll start causing trouble in the community."