Child advocacy center working to heal families affected by opioid abuse

MORGANTOWN — The Monongalia County Child Advocacy Center is taking a new, whole-family approach to help kids in families broken and devastated by opioid abuse.

The Drug Endangered Children (DEC) Project aims to help kids cope with the trauma they’ve experienced and to help the parents embrace sobriety and parenthood.

The center’s primary mission is to help families affected by abuse. “Certainly parental substance abuse is a major factor in a lot of the abuse and neglect cases that we’re seeing,” said development director Marissa Russell.

That’s borne out statewide, as Deputy DHHR Secretary Jeremiah Samples told the Legislature in January that the Bureau for Children and Families had 6,387 children in state custody. And 85 percent of children they take into custody come from homes affected by drug abuse.

DEC will target families who are involved with Child Protective Services — where kids have been taken into custody or are at risk of being taken, Russell said.

“It’s a boots-on-the-ground program,” said Laura Capage, Advocacy Center executive director and a licensed psychologist.

“These kids are being exposed to lots of traumatic experiences,” she said. They see their parents abuse drugs, they may be meeting shady characters and be passing in and out of the child welfare system. They learn that adults cope with problems by using drugs and carry all this baggage into adulthood.

“If we don’t get this under control and change their experience they’re going to become tomorrow’s drug users,” she said.

The process begins with a comprehensive psychological evaluation focused on five areas: Parental substance use, parent and child mental health, parenting, and parent-child relationships.

They identify the family’s needs and what treatment should focus on. This avoids the one-size-fits-all approach to treatment and aims for lasting change, not a temporary stoppage, Capage said.

They’ve developed a treatment model called therapeutic parenting, she said. They work to help the parents understand how their issues have impacted their children and to take responsibility and be in a place where they want to make a change.

Each family will have a treatment team overseen by a psychologist. The team will include therapists for the parents and the children, a family advocate who assists them with basic needs and helps steer them through the criminal justice system, and a peer coach.

Russell explained that the center’s expertise is in dealing with child abuse and neglect, not substance abuse, so they reached out to West Virginia Sober Living.

Sober Living President Doug Leech said when the advocacy center called, a had just launched their West Virginia Peers program. It’s a grant-funded program conducted in partnership with WVU Health Sciences, he said. The coaches help connect individuals to the services they need “to live a healthier and a more fulfilling life.”

There are seven coaches in Mon County who work with virtually every social service agency in the county and help people get into recovery, and sometimes help them with such basic needs as food, clothing and shelter, Leech said.

The peer coaches establish a rapport with the clients and are there for the long term — when state agencies are done and step out. Relapses are possible when the agencies step out, and the peers provide a support group to help them maintain sobriety.

WV Peers was the perfect match for DEC to help the kids and the parents, Leech and Russell said.

Capage explained that once the parents are stabilized, the family is brought back together for parent-child interaction therapy. The parents are coached on how to be loving caregivers.

While the advocacy center receives some state funding, DEC will be entirely grant funded, Russell said.

The center’s services are limited to Mon County, she said. But, “We’re also looking at the efficacy of this project and how to box this model and share it with other communities.”

Researchers from the WVU clinical psychology program will be joining in, and there will be a cost-benefit analysis to see if the program costs less than what the state is now doing.

Initially, they’re working with three families, she said, but hope to work with 20 to 25 in the next year. The program is comprehensive and time consuming. “We really want to stick with these families and let them know that we’re going to support them long term.”

The center plans a public launch of the program from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sept 26. People can come to the center to learn about the program and meet some of the people involved.

Russell said they’re also seeking referrals to the program— from judges, social service agencies, even form families themselves who know they need help.

Follow David Beard on Twitter @dbeardtdp. Email

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