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Peer-mentor centered program helps Ohio families struggling with substance use

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Monday, March 18, 2024   

An evidenced-based social work model to help parents struggling with substance use stay connected to their children is offering hope to Ohio counties ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

A new survey of parents in predominantly Appalachian Ohio counties finds most had positive experiences with Ohio Sobriety Treatment and Reducing Trauma or "START."

Erin Mills, Ohio START family peer mentor for Summit County Children's Services, said the program uses a trauma-informed approach to help parents forge healthy relationships with their children, while voluntarily agreeing to enter a recovery program.

"It's an amazing tool within the community as we are facing this opioid epidemic," Mills asserted. "We have tons of children who are being displaced due to addiction issues."

According to the survey, many parents gave credit to Ohio START for helping them keep custody of or reunite with their children, and say their experiences led to a more positive perception of child protective services. According to 2022 state data, more than 5,000 residents died from drug overdoses and the majority of the deaths involved opioids.

Jen McClellan, Ohio START regional manager for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, explained substance abuse in the home increases the odds of child abuse and neglect but pointed to research which shows removing children from their home and placing them in foster care can cause mental distress and in some cases, lead to worse outcomes.

She believes the program's success is driven by its use of peer mentors and wraparound services aimed at keeping parents and kids together safely.

"We use more intense practices, the family peer mentor is paired with a caseworker who serves the families together," McClellan explained. "And they see their families much more frequently than in a traditional Children's Services case."

Jessica Okolish, Ohio START family peer mentor for Summit County Children's Services, said the intensity and speed of recovery services to participating families can help set in motion positive changes, noting without the START network, parents could wait months for a bed in a recovery program.

"Another big thing is recovery coaches having a seat at the table to show the positive impact of peer support and that it works. I think Summit County has proven that." Okolish reported.

Most survey participants said the shared lived experience between family peer mentors and parents helped established trust and made a difference overcoming resistance in working with child protective services.

Disclosure: The Public Children Services Association of Ohio contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Family/Father Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Mental Health. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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