Fulton County began a new program last week to help families of students who have repeatedly been suspended from the county s seven public school districts.
The initiative will use Parenting Wisely, a computer program that allows parents to work through imaginary family conflicts, such as deciding the best way to make children do their household chores.
“Parenting Wisely addresses a lot of problems that we find students encountering,” Neil Bersticker, coordinator of alternative education for the Northwest Ohio Educational Service Center. “We re trying to reduce the number of suspensions by getting more and more parents involved in their kids lives.”
Parents will use the computer software at the Fulton County Alternative School, where students stay when they are suspended from their regular districts.
A licensed social worker will help parents work through Parenting Wisely and apply the software s scenarios to their real life experiences.
Mr. Bersticker said parents will receive letters inviting them to voluntarily participate in Parenting Wisely when their student has been suspended for the second time. After a third suspension, school principals may press charges against students for unruly behavior.
If a case goes to juvenile court, the judge may order parents to participate in the Parenting Wisely program.
Judge Michael Bumb, of Fulton County s Juvenile Probation Court, said Parenting Wisely is a good alternative to ordering family therapy because it takes less time and is less expensive.
“I have talked to other counties that have used the program, and they are satisfied with it,” he said.
The Parenting Wisely software was developed by a psychologist at Ohio University and was tested in southern Ohio. The program is now used at more than 60 sites in Ohio, including agencies in Toledo, Sandusky, and Tiffin.
“In general, I think the program has been helpful. It at least puts you on a common ground so at the end, everyone has some basic skills,” said Harry Blackmon, executive director of LHS Family and Youth Services, Inc., which uses Parenting Wisely. “It s not a substitute for family therapy.”
Last week, three families used Parenting Wisely at the Fulton County Alternative School. The county s program is funded by a grant from the state s department of education.