Family Connection on a mission to help youth
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
Family Connection has a mission.
That's not just a figure of speech for the local collaborative board that strives to help youth and families in the Morgan County area. The group “envisions a community where the stability of families and the health, safety, and literacy of children are valued, and where community partnerships are restoring hope by embracing a balance of prevention, intervention, and advocacy,” according to its vision statement.
“Family Connection looks at the community and determines...what are the strengths and challenges in our community as pertain to children and families?” said Karen Robertson, who has been the coordinator for the Morgan County Family Connection since 2000. “We as a board work together to develop a plan, a three-to-five-year plan, to coordinate that assessment and get the right people at the table to implement that plan.”
Family Connection is a state-wide program that had its origins under Governor Zell Miller in 1991, according to Robertson.
At that time the state government decided to allocate monies to local groups in Georgia to make decisions and improve life for families in their own communities.
“Family Connection can look different in every community,” said Robertson. “But it's always a local collaborative involving social services, business, education, parents, and children.” In Morgan County that means the Board of Education, literacy organizations, the hospital, media outlets, the Department of Family and Children's Services, the Chamber of Commerce, county and city government, the library—all have or have had representatives on the board of the Family Connection.
“They coordinate everything that has to do with families in need,” said Babs Johnston, a current Family Connection board member. “The focus right now is on two groups of children—students trying to complete high school, and families with young children.”
Every few years the Family Connection identifies particular needs within the community on which to focus its energies and resources—these are identified within strategic plans developed by the board.
“I think they've done a great job,” said Johnston. “They pull together the data that already exists, and try to create programs where there are pockets of need.”
The board meets monthly, and in addition to its programs devolving from its three-year plan, the Family Connnection also sponsors two annual events, the downtown “Back to School Rally” each August, which is aimed at letting community members know what kinds of services are available to families in the area, and its youth summer camp for at-risk children, which runs from four to eight weeks annually. The Connection has also sponsored parenting classes and speakers, and created a Teen Parent club at the high school to offer information and support for teens becoming parents.
“Based on what the community says, and on state data...we decide what our focus is going to be,” said Robertson.
The wide-ranging board helps the Connection to keep from duplicating other efforts within the community. Focuses of the group in past years have included teen pregnancy, early learning, high school completion, child abuse and neglect, and other topics of importance to local kids and parents.
The Family Connection is currently in the process of developing its strategic plan for the next three to five years, and one focus is likely to be teen pregnancy, which had seen a drop in Morgan County but which is now on the rise again, said Robertson.
“Within the last year and this year, we've seen an increase [in teen pregnancies],” said Robertson. “That's going to be a big focus, to see a reduction in those numbers.”
To learn how to get involved in Family Connection, or to get information on becoming a board member—there are currently several vacancies—contact coordinator Karen Robertson at 706.343.5800.
The state also maintains a Family Connection web site, www.gafcp.org.