By Fawn Gadel, Ohio START Director
During National Recovery Month in September, we take time to recognize people who successfully found recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), promote promising recovery practices, and ask others to join us in our recovery work. At Ohio START (Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma), our teams celebrate recovery all year long through our tireless work with parents struggling with SUD and child maltreatment.
Ohio START has assisted more than one thousand families in their journey toward recovery during the last six years, and there is still so much work to do! While you may not have heard as much about it lately, the addiction epidemic is still plaguing Ohio, with overdose deaths continuing to be too high; we are especially concerned with the sharp rise in overdose deaths of African Americans.
Implementing START The Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) partnered with the State of Ohio in 2017 to implement Ohio START. We began in 17 counties and have since expanded to 53, with the intent of spreading the model statewide. The START model, which originated in Cuyahoga County in the 1990s, provides wraparound services to families who come to the attention of children services due to parental substance use. Ohio START teams work closely with all members of the family to help parents quickly get into treatment to achieve long-term recovery, ensure child safety and well-being, connect all family members with services to help them heal from past trauma, and work tirelessly to keep the family together when it is safe to do so. That means keeping young children at home with family rather than placing them in foster care. We approach substance use disorders with compassion, understanding, and hope for recovery.
Ohio START is one of five child welfare prevention services being implemented to prevent Ohio children from entering foster care, aiming to keep kids in their homes or with kin. The START model is approved as a prevention service for families who have at least one child under age 6 in the home. Focusing on families with young children allows the START teams to engage early in the child’s life so that parents can fully and actively participate in the child’s upbringing. We have witnessed many families who previously lost permanent custody of older children achieve recovery through START and go on to parent a newly born child safely and successfully.
In Kentucky, evaluators found mothers who participated in START achieved sobriety at nearly twice the rate of mothers treated without START (66% vs. 37%*). Children in families served by START were half as likely to be placed in state custody compared to children in a matched control group (21% vs. 42%). Ohio expects to see similar results through our ongoing evaluation conducted by The Ohio State University School of Social Work.
Family Peer Mentors One key member of the Ohio START team is the family peer mentor, a person in long-term recovery with personal experience with children services. Peers partner with START caseworkers to jointly serve START families. Peers help connect parents to recovery services, introduce them to sober living resources, and most importantly serve as an example that recovery and a happy, healthy life are possible after SUD. START family peer mentors serve as a living example that recovery is possible, not only for other families but for children service caseworkers and the community at large.
One of the biggest benefits communities experience with START is a reduction in stigma around SUD, and our peers are responsible for a large part of that. Seeing our peers out in the community – in court with their clients, accompanying parents to doctor appointments, sponsoring recovery events – shows everyone that success and second chances are possible.
It also helps the public understand that SUD is a brain disease and that people who suffer from SUD should be treated the same as people who suffer from other diseases. Especially in small communities where people have known their peers from childhood, they demonstrate that it is never too late to seek recovery -- and we should never give up on our loved ones. We have come a long way in reducing the stigma around SUD and in changing attitudes around parenting while in recovery.
As one START parent stated, “My experience, it was amazing. It was a blessing. I never realized how many people was in my corner until I actually started this program. … They really, really saved my life in a lot of ways.”
This month, I hope we all take time to find ways to support people in recovery from SUD, believe that recovery is possible, and work to save as many lives as possible.
*Huebner, R. A., Willauer, T., & Posze, L. (2012). The impact of sobriety treatment and recovery teams (START) on family outcomes. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 93(3), 196-203.