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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Supporting Parents in Recovery

12/8/16 12:06 PM | Gloria Dickerson | Recovery, Children, Parents

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The number of parents in recovery from mental illness, trauma, homelessness, and substance use is unclear because there is no standardized national data collection. This lack of data leads to a huge gap in service delivery to a sector of the population who is raising children.

This can be remedied by screening and assessing parents across our health care system to identify needs for specific education and support services--particularly in areas of mental illness, trauma, homelessness, and substance use. This would give families a good chance to receive critical support services to keep them intact and healthy. Children could escape the isolation and helplessness that comes with living with a parent who is ill, but without treatment. Interventions could occur before children are neglected or abused.

Certain factors determine the risk to children from parents with mental illness and substance use disorders: age of onset; severity and duration of the parent's mental illness; stress in the family resulting from the illness; and extent to which parents' symptoms interfere with positive parenting, such as their ability to show interest in their children.

Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of substance use disorders. The impact of genetics varies, depending on the family role and gender of the individual. Attitudes and beliefs of family members also influence efficacy of treatment. Preventive interventions that address risk factors and increase protective and supportive services for all family members increase the likelihood that children are resilient and able to grow and develop in positive ways.

The availability of addiction services and a willingness to engage in recovery services can also mitigate risk to children. However, recovery is hard enough. Adding the tasks of parenting to the challenges of seeking and using recovery services raises the obstacles to recovery exponentially. I can’t imagine the pain and overwhelming nature of trying to deal with my own trauma while also trying to raise a child. Read the perspective of a parent in recovery.

Education and support services must be available to parents. Coping with poverty, racism, discrimination, and a lack of education for generations impedes parents’ ability to raise their standard and quality of living and leaves parents scrambling to making ends meet. At the same time, their children are in the midst of critical developmental stages that will affect their lives as adults. The negative impacts of poverty and trauma on my own parents, siblings, and me cannot be quantified nor undone.

Finding and securing help for families is not easy. Access to parenting education and support services are limited or non-existent. A family may have to be reported or investigated before help is made available. I called a local child welfare agency to find parenting supports for a family member and was told the only way this person could get help was if an investigation was opened. This lovely child in my family would have to be hurt or neglected before help could be secured.

We are losing a generation of children who are growing up in the midst of a national opioid crisis that has its roots in poverty, trauma, and racism. Children are precious and need society’s investment and support to help their families thrive as part of a paradigm shift from individual treatment to family recovery and wellness. My family was simply not equipped to handle the stresses of dealing with racism and lack of educational opportunities. Addiction and trauma education and services for my parents, siblings, and me would have transformed our lives.

Learn more from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

How can you support resiliency in children? Check out t3's "Supporting Resilience" self-paced learning bundle:

Image by Stephan Hochhaus (CC by 2.0).

Gloria Dickerson

Written by Gloria Dickerson

Gloria Dickerson is a Recovery Specialist at the Center for Social Innovation. Her expertise in recovery derives from academic training and lived experience of recovery from trauma, mental illness, and homelessness. Gloria received a B.S. from Tufts University and has completed master’s level studies in Instructional Design and Psychiatric Rehabilitation.