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School family liaison program used as model

November 29, 2000

School family liaison program used as model



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


A Washington County Department of Social Services program designed to help children by helping their families meet their basic needs was recently used as a model for a similar program in Talbot County, Md.

Tamara Puffenberger, program director for the School-Family Liaison program, said representatives from the Talbot County Department of Social Services came to Hagerstown to learn the ins and outs of Washington County's 6-year-old program.

Being able to see how the program is administered here has helped them to avoid "early mistakes," said April Sharp of the Talbot County Department of Social Services.

"It provided a tremendous benefit to us and jump-started our program," Sharp said.

Puffenberger said she was gratified that Talbot County thought well of the program but was especially pleased about the effect it will have on the community's children.

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The program uses referrals by school officials, based on a child's grades, attendance or behavior.

When a problem is noticed, a counselor talks with the children and family to determine the cause and what can be done to address it.

"We are an early intervention/prevention program," Puffenberger said.

The counselors can link families with the proper social service programs for problems such as domestic violence or unpaid rent or a cut-off notice for utilities.

Taking care of such problems allows children to concentrate on their studies, she said.

She gave an example of a 10-year-old boy who became withdrawn and refused to participate in activities.

After talking with the youngster and his family, a counselor determined the boy was preoccupied with whether his family would have enough to eat. Counselors helped him improve in school by getting the family involved in social service programs.

Puffenberger said the program is in all 25 Washington County elementary schools and affects about 300 children a year.

Part of the program involves teachers making home visits to first-grade students, welcoming them and their families to the school, she said.

She said family involvement from the very beginning helps students excel.

"We consider when a student comes to school that it's their third period of the day," she said.

She said first period is when a child wakes up. "If they have breakfast and their parents are loving, then things go smoothly," she said.

The second period is the school bus ride, which can be rough for children if they are picked on or are apprehensive about leaving home.

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