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story.lead_photo.caption Julie Smith/News TribuneCole County volunteers, who have helped children in stressful situations, have formed a committee aimed at preparing them to be successful adults. The children may be served through their stay at Prenger Family Center.

A group of Cole County volunteers who have invested time and energy in efforts to advocate for children in stressful situations has formed a committee aimed at preparing those children to be successful adults.

Made up primarily of current or former Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteers, Aiding Adolescents in Crisis and Transition has developed a proposal to expand facilities and services at the Prenger Family Center in Jefferson City so fewer youth are sent for treatment to facilities around the state, according to an AACT news release.

The Michael Prenger Family Center offers services to all juveniles living in Cole County, according to the Cole County website. It works with children who are in state care and with juveniles who commit offenses. The facility includes a 14-bed residential program.

Juveniles and their families are referred to the center by their own families, community agencies, law enforcement or school personnel.

CASA is a volunteer-oriented organization made up of a network of people who believe society has a fundamental obligation to make sure children thrive and are treated with dignity and are kept safe. Its volunteers, appointed by judges, advocate for abused and neglected children.

"The limited capacity for residential treatment centers in Mid-Missouri means the majority of local youth in crisis are sent for treatment to facilities around the state, creating a burden on reunifying them with their families and delivering needed services," AACT volunteer Kelley Ogletree said in the news release. "We want to keep these young people in Cole County, where family bonds and ongoing support services won't be disrupted by out-of-county placement. This is especially important for older youth in foster care so we can better prepare them for living a meaningful life as independent successful adults and good citizens."

Alex LeCure, a volunteer with the group, said without help, many teenagers transitioning out of state care won't have basic needs, such as a driver's license or job skills.

In most cases, the state has taken them out of abusive settings and put them in foster care.

"At any given time, there are about 25 kids in residential care (group homes) under Cole County jurisdiction," LeCure said. "Some of those kids require specialized care."

National Foster Youth Institute statistics show youth exiting foster care as adults have a 20 percent chance of immediately becoming homeless, according to the AACT news release. Only half will have meaningful jobs by age 24, and less than 3 percent will earn a college degree at some point in their lives.

"Connecting youth to their family, positive role models, and their community while also empowering them by equipping them with the life skills necessary to develop and exploit opportunity is how we heal trauma and build a better future for these children," Cole County Presiding (and Juvenile Court) Judge Jon Beetem said in the news release. "The work of the AACT committee will go a long way in reaching these goals."

The committee is putting together a proposal intended to augment or expand services offered at the Prenger Center, which should help keep youth in Cole County. The AACT Committee hopes to have a final proposal to present to Beetem and the Cole County Commission by the end of summer.

Anyone who would like to provide input on this project should contact the committee via email at [email protected]

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