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UGA receives $8.2 million grant to support families in Georgia child welfare system By J. Calvin Powell

A team of University of Georgia faculty has received an $8.2 million grant for a project aimed at improving the lives of nearly 1,500 families in a 13-county, mostly rural, region in northeast Georgia.

The grant came from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and will be administered by the Office of Family Assistance. Ted Futris, an associate professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences and a UGA Cooperative Extension family life specialist, will direct the five-year project.

The program will focus on creating positive and stable homes through education designed to improve healthy marriage and relationship skills and promote economic stability. The Elevate curriculum, a couples education program developed by researchers at UGA and Auburn University, will be taught along with a three-week financial literacy education program that focuses on managing finances and building wealth.

Numerous state and local partners are involved in the project including the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Georgia Family Connection, Great Start Georgia, Strengthening Families Georgia and Project Safe.

The 13 counties involved are Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Rockdale and Walton counties; collectively they are Georgia DFCS Region 5. The counties will be divided into three clusters based on the number of families receiving home visitation and DFCS services, with one project coordinator and four program facilitators assigned to each cluster.

The needs of the region’s highest-risk children will be addressed and services will be provided for new parents, foster parents and reunified families, or biological parents of children 18 and under who were removed from their home and have been reunited.

Georgia ranked 42nd in the U.S. in 2014 across various child well-being indicators, according to Kids Count data. Children in rural counties are particularly at risk, Futris noted, due to patterns of income inequality and social stratification.

Students from both UGA FCS and the School of Social Work will provide services such as child care, youth engagement and tax preparation. They will also conduct in-home visits and collect needs assessment data. Up to 30 part-time program facilitators and field assessors will also be hired. UGA Extension county agents will also help with the project.

“We’ll be working with families that are experiencing a lot of stress on a daily basis,” Futris said. “We want to see as a result of participating in this program that they are able to effectively manage the stress and that they are experiencing less stress over time, and we want to see stability in their relationships.”

Partners like Georgia DFCS will help connect eligible parents and families with project leaders.

“The project should provide needed knowledge and skills to help our families bridge the gap to sustainability in healthy relationships and economic habits,” said Mary Havick, Region 5 director for Georgia DFCS. “I feel confident that the model Dr. Futris and his team have proposed will be successful, and I believe in its potential for future statewide replication.”

The first step of the project—hiring facilitators and conducting training—will begin immediately and the project will officially launch and begin delivering programs as early as this spring, Futris said.

“It’s a huge initiative, and I’m 100 percent confident in our capacity to do it,” he said. “All of our partners are excited, and I think that’s a testament to this team’s commitment.”

(Calvin Powell is director of communications for the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.)

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