Tagged: child maltreatment

Parental Substance Use and Child Welfare

Substance use is a growing concern in the United States. Devastated families of all kinds struggle to maintain a sense of boundary and support, and feel powerless in helping their loved ones overcome their addictions. Often overlooked in the national conversation, and in the local treatment programs, though, are the most vulnerable subset of those affected by these sensitive situations. According to data from the 2009 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1 in 8 children lived in homes with at least one parent dependent on alcohol or drugs.

There is a strong relationship between parental substance use disorder and child maltreatment. Frequently, drugs and alcohol inhibit a parent’s ability to effectively function in a parental role. These parents experience a decreased capacity to read and respond to their child’s needs and cues, have difficulty regulating their emotions, and, accordingly, face a disruption in healthy parent-child attachment building. Substance abuse by a parent often leads to neglect.

Children in this environment are at a higher risk of developing cognitive, emotional and behavioral disorders which further compounds the stress to the household. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, these children are also subject to higher rates of emotional, physical and sexual violence, substance use issues, housing instability, poverty and physical health issues.

In 2014, approximately 47 states had child protection laws that addressed parental substance use. Colorado, a state which is still experiencing a rise in drug use according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, has passed numerous bills focused on providing support for families and individuals struggling with substance use disorder, and protecting the children who suffer the consequences. Over the years, Kempe has worked alongside government agencies and committees dedicated to the prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction of Colorado’s opioid crisis.

This summer and fall, the Colorado legislature’s Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee met to continue this work. Kempe engaged with the committee, closely monitoring and providing feedback on their legislative proposals. In September, Dr. Kathi Wells of The Kempe Center participated on a panel before the committee talking about families affected by substance use disorder along with representatives from Douglas County Human Services and Illuminate Colorado. Dr. Wells was able to speak about the policy evolution as it relates to supporting families affected by substance use disorder and uplifted the creation of the CARENetwork as a critical piece of the puzzle as communities decide how to tackle these challenges..

Additionally, on October 29th, the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee approved several bills including the recovery bill, which contains a provision to change procedures when a baby tests positive for substances at birth, as well as a provision modifying the determination of child abuse, neglect or dependency in situations involving substance use exposure. Again, Kempe had a seat at the table, providing detailed feedback on the bill’s language.

We will continue our advocacy and involvement in this area because we know the cycle of substance use disorder is generational. Many people who struggle with substance abuse share reports of traumatic histories. Because children of parents with psychological illness receive statistically less health treatment than those with healthy parents, they are often unable to get the help they need to stop the cycle. While there are many agencies in Colorado utilizing court rooms and committee meetings to decrease and prevent substance use disorder, the most effective work will always happen within our families and in our homes.

To stay up to date on our work at the legislature heading in to the next session, sign up for our Kempe Advocacy Update emails here.

Child Maltreatment and Trauma: Treating the Whole Family

Over the past three months, we’ve been exploring the topic of childhood trauma and its impact on mental health. Child maltreatment is the most common cause of trauma for youth and commonly the adult perpetrators, who were also subject to maltreatment in their youth. The perpetrator’s experience is then transmitted to their family. Trauma may also be the result of other events. Trauma is the reaction to frightening, often life-threatening, and violent experiences and while our focus is on child maltreatment, a traumatizing event may be experienced by any or all members of a family and then may lead to maltreatment, disruption of relationships and impede family functioning. Regardless of the trauma type, every trauma is a family trauma.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network notes that all families experience trauma differently, and some factors such as a child’s age or the family’s culture or ethnicity may influence how the family copes and recovers from a traumatic event. Trauma changes families as they work to survive and adapt to their circumstances and environment. While this adjustment may be less difficult for some, for others the stress and burden cause them to feel isolated, overwhelmed, and less able to maintain vital family functions.

At Kempe, we believe that every family who has faced trauma deserves access to treatment so that they may heal and recover together. That’s why the Kempe Center’s IMHOFF Clinic takes a whole family approach and provides services for children, as well as their parents, caregivers and siblings who may also be dealing with symptoms related to stress, trauma and adversity.

We recently connected with Dr. Steven Berkowitz, a visiting professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus who is working in collaboration with Kempe to grow the IMHOFF Clinic’s whole family care approach.

Why is a family-focused approach a more effective way to address trauma?

Very often, children who experience trauma have parents or caregivers who were also traumatized in their youth and never received treatment to address the emotional, cognitive and behavioral consequences. Because trauma can be transmitted across generations, we see these children experience the same things that happened to their parents and caregivers. As a treatment provider, it is important to assess everyone in the family to identify any significant issues or psychological symptoms that may be related to an intergenerational history of trauma. In order for the child to successfully recover from their own traumatic experiences, we must take a whole family perspective and treat everyone in the family unit.

What is unique about your work at the IMHOFF Clinic?

We are building the IMHOFF Clinic into a family-focused clinic that provides services for children, youth and adults dealing with symptoms related to stress, trauma and adversity. Our multidisciplinary treatment team works together with children and their families in a much more integrated way. In the past, if we saw a parent or caregiver struggling alongside their child, we would have to refer them to another treatment provider in a completely different location. Here, the treatment is in one place and we offer a range of individualized therapies and pharmacology to any family members who need it.

What are you hoping to achieve at the IMHOFF Clinic?

This group is on the forefront of providing the most comprehensive and evidence-based assessments and treatments that focus on stress and trauma throughout the lifespan. We are working to develop a model program that helps to unify the various departments of the University of Colorado, School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado in order to better serve the families that come to Kempe for help. We’d also like to develop an effective home-based program for children and families so that treatment can happen in the least restrictive, most normative setting possible, with the goal being to help families live and function successfully at home.

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