Officials said many children who are chronically truant or tardy want to be in school.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- A new program aimed at keeping children out of juvenile court and foster care could save county taxpayers thousands of dollars, Eileen Dray-Bardon, job and family services director, says.
Dray-Bardon and juvenile court officials said solving problems before children land in juvenile court or foster care is the aim of Project Soar, an early intervention program commissioners approved Wednesday.
Dray-Bardon said about $60,000 of $107,000 that job and family services has available for intervention programs will be used for Project Soar. Some or all of the remainder could also be spent on the program if needed, she said.
Juvenile court officials ran Project Soar as a pilot program in four Columbiana County schools this spring.
They shared some Project Soar success stories before county commissioners approved the contract for the school year just begun.
Juvenile court officials explained that chronic tardiness or truancy are often signs of deeper problems, and are sometimes caused by circumstances out of a child's control. Many children who are chronically truant or tardy want to be in school, they said.
Lori Yerkey, the juvenile court's diversion officer, said part of Project Soar is coordination among juvenile court and public school officials to combat the spread of head lice and identify pupils who may be chronically absent because of the problem.
Yerkey said head lice, a common complaint in public schools, is more than a nuisance problem. The parasite is often the cause of frequent absenteeism, and consequently, poor classroom performance.
Chronic tardiness and absenteeism are red flags that alert juvenile officials to problems at home, she said.
Yerkey said through Project Soar a 12-year-old boy with a history of disruptive, inappropriate behavior in the classroom was found to be gifted.
The boy was disruptive and unruly because he was bored and unchallenged in class, and was on the verge of committing serious offenses that would have put him into the juvenile court system, she said.
Lending a hand
Yerkey said for some struggling families, the daily morning routine is difficult, so sometimes part of her job is going to a home each morning to help children get ready for school.
In one case, Yerkey said she worked with a kindergartner who was late for school 17 days in a row.
Yerkey found the child's family struggling to manage a home in which one of several other younger children is disabled and requires special care, and an adult is mentally ill.
Dray-Bardon said juvenile court and job and family services work together in such cases to do everything possible to keep struggling families together.