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Kent State University unveils program to help foster teens affected by opioid epidemic

The program is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the school.
Credit: Tony Dejak/AP

KENT, Ohio — One local college is making an effort to help children and teens impacted by Northeast Ohio and America's opioid crisis.

Kent State University announced recently it has launched a program to assist teens who are currently in foster care as a result of parents battling opioid addiction. The effort is in connection with a child welfare charity known as First Star, and is partly made possible by a $500,000 grant from the Ohio Department of education.

Each academic cohort for four years, the First Star – Kent State Academy will select and work with 30 local foster youths by helping them gain the skills needed to succeed in higher education and adulthood. The first group of eighth graders will meet monthly with a group from KSU and other areas and during the summer will spend four weeks on the Kent campus.

Melody Tankersley, Kent State’s interim senior vice president and provost, had this to say:

"We know that many teens in foster care will age out of the foster care system without being adopted by age 18. Because they’ve been in foster care, they might have missed some things that children and youth in a more stable environment might have experienced."

According to the university, the number of Ohio children in foster care is expected to increase to 19,000 by 2020, including more than 500 in Northeast Ohio as a direct result of the opioid crisis. Only 3% of all kids who age out of foster care without being adopted go on to earn college degrees, and KSU is hoping this program (one of the few of its kind in the United States) will help change that.

"It is my hope that youth who matriculate through the First Star – Kent State Academy will not only receive the skills and knowledge needed to move on to higher education, but that these youth will have multiple stable adult supporters to guide them as they move onward," Danielle Green-Welch, the academy's new director, said.

First Star says 87% of teens who go through its program nationally end up going to college or other forms of post-secondary education. Multiple partners, including Akron Public Schools, have signed on to assist.

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