Athens, Ga. – A team of University of Georgia faculty members, led by a researcher in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, has received an $8.2 million grant from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to improve the lives of children and families in the child welfare system in Georgia.
The project will focus on creating positive and stable homes through the integration of research-based services designed to improve healthy marriage and relationship skills and promote economic stability.
With numerous state and local partners, including the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, Georgia Family Connection, Great Start Georgia, Strengthening Families Georgia and Project Safe, the five-year project will reach nearly 1,500 families in a 13-county, mostly rural, region in northeast Georgia.
The project seeks to address the needs of the region’s highest-risk children and will include services 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.
Ted Futris, an associate professor in the department of human development and family science and a UGA Extension family life specialist, is the project director.
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.
UGA students from both the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the School of Social Work will be involved in the project, providing services such as child care, youth engagement and tax preparation; conducting in-home visits; and collecting needs assessment data. The project also calls for the hiring of up to 30 part-time program facilitators and field assessors.
“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.”
The project will deliver the Elevate curriculum, a research-informed couples education program developed by researchers at UGA and Auburn University. Participants also will receive a three-week financial literacy education program that focuses on managing finances and building wealth.
Partners such as Georgia DFCS will assist in connecting 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.”
Region 5 consists of Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe, Rockdale and Walton counties. The 13 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 first step of the project—hiring facilitators and conducting training—will begin immediately. 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,” Futris said. “All of our partners are excited, and I think that’s a testament to this team’s commitment.”
Assisting with the project from UGA are Jay Mancini, the Anne Haltiwanger Distinguished Professor in Human Development and Family Science; Jerry Gale, professor; Lance Palmer and Joe Goetz from the college’s financial planning, housing and consumer economics department; Jennifer Elkins, an assistant professor in the UGA School of Social Work; and Karen DeMeester from the UGA Program Evaluation Group in the College of Education, who will serve as an independent evaluator.
The federal grant project is administered by the Office of Family Assistance.