Child Watch Counseling and Advocacy Center of Paducah will begin a new mentoring program for teens to help truant students overcome personal barriers.

The program is appropriately called TEENS: Teens Empowered, Encouraged, Nurtured and Supported. The first class of volunteers is training to help middle and high school students cope with the issues that are keeping them from attending school.

Child Watch Executive Director Janie Criner said the student participants in the program are those who have been reported to the court-designated worker for truancy.

“Our goal is to keep these kids out of court by helping them work their diversion plan through goal-setting and incentives for their continued progress,” she said.

“We know that there are so many factors that can affect a child’s success in school that are beyond their control. Through helping the students, we hope to identify these barriers and help the whole family get access to resources that they need to support the child.”

She added that bullying in school is the No. 1 reason students are truant.

“That can go back to, maybe, a child coming to school in dirty clothes because they didn’t have any clean clothes to wear, so they get bullied,” she said. “A lot of kids are behind in school and they get embarrassed to the point where they are embarrassed to go to school because they’re not as smart as the other kids and they lose self-esteem.

“Those are some of the issues that we want to tackle.”

Criner said volunteers will gauge each student’s interests and work with them.

“They may just need some support; they may just need a little motivation,” she said. “We want to do activities with them that are going to make them realize the importance of going to school.”

Volunteers will work with the students over a six-month period, with a different goal set for each month.

The program was started through a $5,000 grant from the Kentucky Bar Foundation.

“This started with a group called the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, with (District) Judge Todd Jones and Assistant County Attorney Austin Martin,” Criner said. “The research shows that punishment and detention really do not work, especially with juveniles with these kinds of offenses.

Criner said Jones and Martin asked Child Watch to come up with a program similar to Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for truant children.

Criner said the program would initially cater to students at the middle and high school level in the McCracken County and Paducah school districts. Once the training is completed in the first part of next week, volunteers would wait for the court-designated worker to contact Child Watch with a student who qualified for the program.

“That would be a student who has had a history of abuse or neglect in the family or suspected abuse or neglect,” Criner said. “It’s a six-month commitment while the child is working through their diversion plan.”

Child Watch will have ongoing training if more people volunteer to mentor through the TEENS program. The training involves five hours of classroom time.

For more information about the TEENS program, call Child Watch at 270-443-1440 or visit childwatchcac.org/teens.

Follow David B. Snow on Twitter, @SunWithSnow or on Facebook at facebook.com/sunwithsnow.

Follow David B. Snow on Twitter, @SunWithSnow or on Facebook at facebook.com/sunwithsnow.

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