The "system" usually catches up with a child who has problems in school. But too often the innocence of youth is long gone and the arm of the system that does the catching up is Corrections or Social Services.
Research indicates that by third grade "at-risk" youths can be identified and are, in fact, on their way to possibly serious problems, including crime, illiteracy and poverty. To combat this, three state departments want to join forces to provide early intervention for these youngsters.The directors of the Health, Social Services and Education departments have asked lawmakers for $300,000 to initiate programs that would pinpoint and, they hope, correct patterns of at-risk behavior, starting as early as kindergarten. In addition to the appropriations request (which would come out of the three departments' appropriations requests), a proposed bill would establish a state council for at-risk children, made up of representatives from the three departments.
"We want it to be a broad program: top-down support - very much a from-the-bottom-up system, with different programs in each of the schools to meet the needs," said Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, sponsor of HB234.
Social Services Director Norman G. Angus, Health Director Suzanne Dandoy and Superintendent of Education James R. Moss presented the program to the appropriations committees for each of the three departments.
"Some of these kids have never felt a success," said Angus, adding that programs would target those in kindergarten to third grade. "I am so convinced we need to do this. I think the school system can help compensate for a bad family and can involve good families in its process. But the schools need the Health Department, and they need us (Social Services), and we all have something to give by working together."
Angus said no specific programs for at-risk children have been developed. "We want to contact all the school districts and tell them if they want to put in their two bits' worth, with a small demonstration project, they should put in a proposal.
"We're not looking to spend huge bucks. But all three departments have resources and if we each contribute some, it will make a huge difference. We'll do something preventive for once," he said.
"A child who's having trouble in school may have a health problem," Dandoy said. "Or he may be reacting to upheaval at home. All three departments can work together to help."
Each district would submit proposals to the state council. Local schools would coordinate efforts with mental health and substance abuse agencies, and work closely with parents.
Program possibilities include parenting classes; showing instructors how to recognize high-risk behavior; and enhancing a student's communication, problem-solving and decision-making skills.
The bill is expected to sail through the Legislature, and since it has a high priority on each department's appropriations request list, Angus said he doesn't expect any problem. "We hope to be up and running around July 1," he said.