Jail doesn't teach lesson to grandson

Betty Horace loves her grandson so much that she wants him behind bars.

Locking up Moses Barbara, 14, might be the only way to get him to hit the books, she said, worried that the child in her custody will end up like her -- unable to read and write.

If school attendance is an indicator, Moses is well on his way.

In March, Moses, a Hephzibah Middle School seventh-grader who was at the alternative school at the time, had a third scheduled court date for excessive absenteeism. He had missed 117 days of school. There are 180 days in a school year.

"It hurts me, because I want him to get a high school diploma," his grandmother said.

Ms. Horace took custody of Moses when he was small and often calls him her son. But two heart attacks and other health ailments have made it tough on Ms. Horace, who said each morning she goes into her grandson's room and yells at him to wake up for school, but Moses doesn't move.

A simple walk from her home to the mailbox leaves her winded, so there's no way she can lift her grandson and force him to attend school.

People who are raising grandchildren are common in truancy court.

"These grandparents have to juggle a lot," said Mike Patton, the coordinator of the Healthy Grandparent Program at the Medical College of Georgia. Many grandparents are on fixed incomes and have custody issues and health problems, he said. And the situation is becoming more prevalent.

"It's growing significantly," Mr. Patton said. "It's growing, growing, growing, unfortunately."

Ms. Horace doesn't know where to turn to help Moses.

"There's nothing I can do," she said. "I've tried everything."

Moses made his first court appearance in December. He had been to school only four days.

A month later, he returned to court, having missed 85 days of school and still refusing to attend.

Juvenile Court Judge Willie Saunders locked him up for a few days, a move Ms. Horace embraced. Outside court, she thanked the judge, hoping the short stint in detention would jar her grandson into returning to school.

But it didn't.

After his release, he never returned to school, Ms. Horace said. And he did not make his scheduled court appearance in March.

KIDS reared by grandparents

76 percent have little or no involvement with their grandmother

61 PERCENT of mothers have a serious drug problem

25 PERCENT have an incarcerated parent

17 PERCENT have a deceased parent

29 PERCENT have been with their grandparents since the age of 1 or younger

Source: MCG Healthy Grandparents Program