Organizers of a community assessment on families in Pickens County speculate that employment and job issues will be the number one need identified for the forthcoming five-year plan.
At a public input meeting Monday, representatives from different social agencies discussed the 2013-2018 Comprehensive Plan for the Advancement of Families and Children in Pickens County.
This effort will identify the top “barriers” families here face and will work to develop strategies to address these barriers over the next several years.
Pickens Family Connections is hoping for a broad range of input, setting a goal of 500 completed surveys from all areas of the county.
“This thing can go in any direction people want,” said Matt Moore, director of Pickens Family Connections. “It just depends on the input.”
Moore told other representatives from Pickens Family Partners (formerly Prevent Child Abuse Pickens) and the St. Vincent De Paul Society that under the state required assessment, they will take input on what problems the public feels families and children face from now until the fall. They will then prioritize results before addressing strategies for improvement early next year.
Broader support may be the initial challenge as this first meeting drew only six people and no members of the public. But Moore said these early planning meetings are “technical” and may not appeal to the general public. A second meeting planned for Wednesday, May 25, at 9 a.m. would likely draw more professionals who work with non-profits and social agencies Moore thought.
As to the needs he expects to see identified for this five-year plan, Moore said he felt that some combination of unemployment barriers, limited job opportunities and possibly a lack of training or education opportunities will top the list.
Margy Lohman from Pickens Family Partners said, “unemployed parents” would definitely be a key factor, but she doubted that training was going to be identified as a key to improvement. Even with more education, it’s the lack of job opportunities that is the root of the problem here, she said. Another member of the group said you can train them, but when they finish, there isn’t anywhere to get a job.
Lohman said the public may not list teen pregnancy as a top problem, but those working in social agencies recognize teen pregnancy as a mostly unseen, widespread community problem. She said at one point there were 29 students still attending Pickens high school who were pregnant, and this year there were at least 10 pregnant students at the school.
Another person present at the meeting speculated that if that many pregnant students continue going to school, who can say how many may deal with pregnancy in some private manner––though recent reports from the school show the number of drop-outs has decreased dramatically.
Relating to economic problems, Lohman pointed out the many empty, foreclosed properties and shuttered commercial buildings here.
Jack Marcacci, of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said with their outreach programs they see people who have gotten into different types of ruts that they can’t get out of.
For example, he cited a woman who had completed an education program and had a clean record for many years but because of a long-ago felony is struggling to find a job that utilizes her training. Another person said that even a single felony can make someone ineligible for some housing programs. They can’t work and can’t find housing because of something that happened years ago, the person said.
“The people we see – so many have messed up and can’t get out of the rut,” Marcacci said.
He said any program that works with children has an advantage in helping them get off to a good start instead of trying to correct a past mistake.
“The different groups make a lot of progress,” he said. “But we’re not going to be happy because it’s not a perfect world.”
In 2008, the last community survey identified lack of activities for children as the top problem; followed by illegal drug use and limited job opportunities.
In a previous survey, child abuse and neglect were listed as top priorities. Moore and Lohman both thought there has been a lot of improvement with those social ills after they were identified as a former top concern.
Moore said there was a lot more cooperation among agencies here after the survey focused on that problem and some additional funding was directed here from the state because of the assessment.
Lohman said her program, CARES (the food pantry), and the Pickens Pregnancy Center worked together to educate young mothers and provide funding for programs that offered transportation and childcare assistance to mothers who were taking classes at Chattahoochee Tech.
“It [the survey result] helped focus attention and attract funding from the Governor’s office,” Moore said.
“We don’t want it done in isolation,” he said. “We want the whole community to own it.”