by Pamela Young, Published August 10, 2009
YPSILANTI — By the time her baby’s born, she will have turned 18 and “aged out” of the state’s foster care system. By then, she’ll be completely on her own. But, for now, she can’t even image how she’ll manage school while caring for a new infant.
Help now could make the difference between a young woman moving toward a stable, independent future and another generation dependent on social services. This is the critical juncture where Derrick Fries and Karen Carney, professors from Eastern Michigan University’s College of Education, are developing a program they hope will change lives.
Carney and Fries are co-directors of a program called Comprehensive Wraparound Social Services for High Risk Teen Parents and Their Families. Supported by a $538,609 grant from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the program partners with community agencies in Washtenaw and Oakland Counties to provide support to a very vulnerable group of young people.
“Success is going back to school, having a job, reuniting with family, having a stable place to live,” Carney said. “The repercussions of that are the more independent and stable the teen is, the better parent they’ll be for the next generation of children. So, we reduce the risk for those children.”
A 2006 study by the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation showed that teen parents who are also homeless, mentally ill or emotionally disturbed, in foster case or aging out, and/or have a criminal history, are more at risk for cycling back through the system than any other group in Michigan.
According to the OJJDP, there may be as many as 200,000 youth and families in the U.S. involved in wraparound programs, many focused on kids who’ve been in the juvenile justice system. The wraparound concept has proved very effective in programs around the country, but not everyone has embraced it. It’s harder to manage than one-size-fits-all intervention. Each plan is personalized, tailor-made to that family and its set of needs.
As part of the grant, EMU provides wraparound facilitators who are focused specifically on teen parents and parents-to-be. Facilitators gather a team of people who matter in that teen’s life. Together, this support system helps the teen parent see that she’s not alone, help her to see her options, and take control of her life and her choices.
Oakland County conducted approximately 125 wrap-around interventions last year, Carney said. Washtenaw County’s numbers are comparable, but harder to track because the help is spread among more agencies. But the numbers are part of the question surrounding these at-risk teen parents.
The National Center for Health Statistics reported 29,467 births to teen mothers in Michigan in 2000. But no one’s ever bothered to focus on those teen mothers who have special risk factors. Part of the grant involves putting a number on that population.
The project was a natural fit for EMU’s College of Education for several reasons, Fries says. Part of the grant focuses on special education and EMU has the largest special education department in the U.S., according to its national accrediting body, the Council for Exceptional Children. Eastern Michigan is the largest in terms of three metrics – number of full-time, tenure-track faculty, number of students in the major and number of programs.
Wraparound is usually set in motion by the schools, and Eastern Michigan’s College of Education is very much attuned to schools’ needs and concerns, according to Fries.
“Social services and education should go hand in hand,” Fries said. “Sometimes they don’t, but we’re trying to bridge that gap. And I think we all have an intrinsic need to assist kids who are going through a difficult time in their lives, and I think this university is about all that.”