New Treatment Program Aims To Keep Families Together

By Britni de la Cretaz 08/25/17

The program aims to circumvent the foster care system by helping parents find recovery so they be better involved in their children's lives.

mom playing with her daughters

In Kentucky, a unique program offers parents an opportunity to keep custody of their children, even if the child was born drug-exposed as the result of a parent’s addiction.

The pilot program from 2007 is called Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START). Its goal is to keep families together and help parents find recovery so they can stay involved in their kids' lives—through a combination of home visits, financial aid and voucher programs for things like transportation and childcare, and peer mentorship.

As the opioid crisis rages on, foster care numbers are swelling. A system that was already overloaded and under-resourced cannot handle all the children that need placement, a large number of whom are being removed from their homes because of a parent’s addiction.

Grandparents are usually the first ones who are asked to take care of the kids. PBS reported last year that grandparents are stepping in more than ever to take care of their grandchildren. But some programs are hoping to avoid separation altogether, by providing the support needed to keep families intact while a parent recovers.

Massachusetts has a similar program, run by Jewish Family & Children’s Service—called Newborns Exposed to Substances: Support and Therapy, or Project NESST. Like START, the program combines home visits, assistance and mentorship, along with counseling and court advocacy. In 2015, Kimberly Byrnes told Truthout that while working as a mentoring mom for the program, three of her mentees were able to close their cases with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

"They did it on their own, really. I was just there to be with them and to say, 'look, you can do this.' Having someone be there with them, it makes a difference," she said.

These programs do have a lot of associated costs, but the idea is to save money in the long run by reducing costs associated with moving kids through the system, or providing emergency services for parents struggling with addiction. Providing this support could also push more women to seek treatment in the first place. Many are afraid to admit they have a problem because they worry they could lose custody of their children if anyone finds out.

In 2015, SisterReach's Cherisse Scott told Truthout that "women are afraid to come forward, and understandably so. There are no resources in place to protect a woman if she does come forward.” Programs like START, NESST, and forthcoming ones in Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina are hoping to change that.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.