Whitfield and Murray counties continue to show initiative in helping troubled children, Phil Hulst said Friday.

Hulst, director of teacher and student services for the Georgia Department of Education, spoke at Friday’s annual banquet for the Troubled Children’s Council.

“This group shows what we like — communities working together to help kids,” Hulst said. “Whitfield and Murray have always liked to collaborate across county lines, so I was pleased to see that’s continuing.”

The council was incorporated in 1998 as a nonprofit organization made up of the Department of Family and Children Services, Department of Juvenile Justice, juvenile courts, school social workers, and mental health, outreach and private agencies.

The council focuses on prevention of out-of-home placement for children when possible, and on treatment and care when it is not.

Davena Baxter-Baggett with Murray County Schools, council president, said several groups, including Highland Rivers, the Family Support Council, Mountainbrook School — as well as Juvenile and Superior Court judges from the Conasauga Judicial District — were represented in the audience at the Dalton Golf and Country Club.

Hulst, a member of state school superintendent Cathy Cox’s administration, said the Department of Education has made improvements to curriculum such as the new Georgia Performance Standards.

“We’re generally looking for ways to help kids who are having trouble learning,” Hulst said, noting the new “dropout prevention specialist” positions created for next school year. “But we realize no curriculum is enough to sooth the mind of a sick, hungry or hurting child. We need to support our school counselors and social workers — the best-trained and most misused professionals in our schools.”

Hulst said the state has also made strides in allowing children who are transfers from Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Human Resources programs to be admitted into schools. The Department of Education has also implemented a program allowing students who have repeatedly taken graduation tests following remedial work, but come up just short of passing, to be allowed to graduate.

“If they’ve scored 495 or 499, and they need 500 to get their diploma, we’re not ‘diploma throwing,’ but we’re giving those kids who may not be good test-takers the benefit of the doubt,” Hulst said.

Baxter-Baggett presented the Volunteer Service Award to Debby Peppers, who has worked with deprived and neglected children through the local juvenile courts.

“I know those of us in this audience sometimes disagree on things, but kids are my passion,” Peppers said. “What I’m striving for is to try to make a difference for one child.”

Ashley Parham of the Whitfield Department of Family and Children Services and council vice president, presented the Louise Eddings Award to Suzanne Baggett, who retired from DFACS two years ago after a 20-year career in child protective services.

“Suzanne taught me the principles of honesty, accountability and respect, and how to professionally disagree and then walk away from the table as friends,” Parham said.

Brad Butler of the Whitfield Juvenile Court remains treasurer of the council for next year, while Miranda Thomason of the Murray County Department of Juvenile Justice will replace Saxon Kean as secretary.

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