Project Adventure Kids, a non-profit organization focusing on the rehabilitation of at-risk children and teen-aged drug abusers and sex offenders, is closing down its 16 area group homes and treatment facility on Elks Club Road.
The organization is closing because it's seen a 40 percent decline in the amount of children being referred to it by the state departments of Family and Children Services and Juvenile Justice, said Executive Director Aaron Nicholson. Approximately 60 full-time employees have or will lose their jobs. PA Kids has been in Newton County since 1981.
In January, PA Kids had 115 of its beds filled, but as the state's budget crisis worsened only 62 beds were filled a few months later. Nicholson said no official reason was given for why children weren't being placed in "residential programs" as frequently as previously, outside of the budget cuts, but he believed the state was going to be leaning more on existing community service organizations and non-profits.
As an example, Nicholson said DJJ hadn't placed any children in PA Kids' group homes for the past six months. For each child PA Kids would house, it received between $88 and $106 per day. Losing much of that funding while still having the upkeep costs of 16 homes was costing the organization too much money.
Steve Hayes, DJJ's director of media relations, said the department still used "out-of-home" programs but had less money to do so. As of FY2009, DJJ was placing between 30 and 40 kids in PA Kids' programs per month.
He said the DJJ youth placed at PA Kids have been moved to other programs across the state but said the level of services may not be the same at these other facilities. DFCS sends more children to PA Kids than DJJ, but no official from DFCS could be reached Tuesday.
PA Kids had four programs: substance abuse, sex offender, emergency shelter, and independent living. Volunteer counseling intern Carolyn Tucker said PA Kids was considered an intermediary care facility, that helps kids transition back into the outside world after being institutionalized.
Once kids are convicted of an offense they are sent to a maximum treatment facility, where children would typically be supervised 24 hours a day and possibly restrained in an institute, Nicholson said. They often need more intense psychological counseling. Tucker compared it to a triage treatment.
Then a kid would be sent to PA Kids, which focused on helping kids successfully transition back to living with their families and in their community. Tucker said her work was longer-term and included programs like helping sexual offenders deal with their own past sexual abuse. Often children who are sexually abused can become sexual offenders.
For substance abusers, PA Kids would help them make good decisions and develop a plan for living without peers who would be bad influences.
The final step in the child services system would be continuing work with community groups that conduct mentoring and tutoring programs. Without PA Kids, more children may have to rely on community services.
Nicholson said Project Adventure's corporate office in Massachusetts made the decision to close the Newton County program. PA Kids is having an asset liquidation sale beginning Monday.
While most treatment took place at the Elks Club Road facility and school campus, about 15 percent of children attended Challenge Charter Academy. Nicholson said this school is remaining open; it has an enrollment of around 120.
The closing of PA Kids will affect the entire state. Only between 2 and 5 percent of children were from Newton County.
"Speaking specifically about Newton County, we had a lot of kids from DFCS placed here because it was close to their families, making reunification a lot easier. Now we're forcing these same kids and parents to travel 20 to 100 miles to make sure the meetings are done," Nicholson said. "This hurts the whole state of Georgia, because 115 beds have been lost in the state."
Without PA Kids, Newton County is left with very few group home facilities. According to the Georgia Department of Human Resources Office of Regulatory Services, 10 of the 11 official group homes were operated by Project Adventure.
Tucker is just one of hundreds of previous volunteers who will miss the ability to change children's lives.
"I cannot tell you the wonderful work being done there with these people. I went to it at the beginning of my internship and was just blown away at the hope and regard for the clients, and just the change I would see in these young people after being there for a while," Tucker said. "It's completely different from a kid in one of the juvenile jails."
She said it's incredibly important to get to at-risk teens when their young. According to PA Kids stats, only 12 percent of its clients will reoffend, while adult pedophiles are considered unable to be rehabilitated.
Nicholson said its possible PA Kids could reopen in the future, but it would need significant financial support. Tucker said she believed PA Kids would need around $500,000.
While the group homes are being sold, Nicholson said Project Adventure is exploring the option of using the Elks Club Facility as some sort of multi-use facility.