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Family Resource Center offers help to at-risk youth and their families

Legal News Reporter

Published: June 14, 2013

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or Obamacare as it is more commonly known is designed to reward doctors and hospitals that treat the entire patient.

This integrative or holistic approach to medicine has been gaining popularity in the medical community for a number of years.

In Akron the Family Resource Center (FRC) uses the same principle to help at-risk youth, treating the root causes of behavioral problems before they lead to trouble with the law.

Summit County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Tucci Teodosio created the center in 2006 as a kind of one-stop shopping for families dealing with issues ranging from school attendance problems to violence and conflicts at home.

“I think we have a lot of good services in Summit County,” said Teodosio. “The trouble is a lot of times families don’t know about them or how to access them. The Family Resource Center provides a comfortable place for parents to come and learn about what is available to help their children and themselves.”

Located at 650 Dan Street in the William P. Kannel Juvenile Court Center, the FRC is funded by a grant through the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services. It offers case management assistance, referrals to community agencies and resources like tutoring and school-to-work programs, along with providing home and school visits to assess how best to improve a given situation.

Teodosio said the court might refer someone with a case to the Family Resource Center. However, she said parents or children could also seek services even though they do not currently have an active juvenile matter.

“The goal is actually to keep young people from appearing before me,” said Teodosio.

One of the key components of the FRC is the Responder Program, which began in the fall of 2010.

Developed with grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services and RECLAIM Ohio, it puts a trained professional in middle, and more recently some elementary schools, to screen for potential psychological problems that might be contributing to unruly behavior or truancy.

“Initially we focused entirely on middle school students,” said Lisa Karas, program supervisor at the Family Resource Center. “We have been trying to expand the program to elementary schools.

“The main difference is that with younger students we put more of a focus on parental responsibility since a lot of the trouble for children at that age has to do with the home environment. A lot of the times, a truancy problem can be caused by something as simple as not having a way to get to school. I can recall one case where the family did not have an alarm clock so we got them one.”

She said case workers often look to see if bullying, domestic violence or anxiety could be the reason the child is having trouble.

“The school usually makes the initial call to the parents, referring them to our center,” said Karas. “The next step is to set up a meeting where school personnel, a case manager, the parents, and if appropriate mental health professionals and the student are present.

“We meet as a team to discuss the underlying issues and come up with a plan. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, but sometimes it’s more complicated, requiring counseling or mentoring.”

In addition to Karas, the Family Resource Center has five case managers, a truancy mediator and two administrative assistants.

In the case of the Responder Program, there are representatives in 16 middle schools, and three elementary schools, Seiberling, Lakeview and Richardson, and Karas said she is hoping to add more schools in the future.

“Schools and other organizations usually hear about our services through presentations and recommendations from other school personnel,” said Karas. “In 2012, we began adding elementary schools because the earlier we can reach children the better the overall outcome will be in their academic careers and in their lives.”

Innes Middle School Assistant Principal, Andrew Ziccardi said his school has participated in the responder program at least four years.

“It has given us another avenue into the life of the student,” said Ziccardi. “There are so many issues that can impact a student’s ability to learn, and the Responder Program has been a great help in solving or working to solve whatever has come up by putting the family in contact with the services that are necessary.

“We’ve had students in need of psychiatric help as well as those in need of transportation and we were able to offer the services because the Responder Program was involved,” said Ziccardi. “These issues are at the forefront of what the Responder Program can accomplish for the well being of the student and family.”

Ziccardi said earlier this year, there was an eighth grade student whose attendance was “atrocious.”

He said school officials sat down with the responder representative and the parents, offering assistance and the student’s attendance improved immediately.

“This person was very close to court involvement and is now back on track,” said Ziccardi. “It usually comes down to the parents not knowing where to go.”

“On a personal level I find it very satisfying to know that because of this center, more children can get the help they need to succeed in school and become productive members of our society,” said Teodosio.