When I graduated with my Master’s of Social Work (MSW) in 2013, I felt ready to tackle the world. I knew all about social justice. I had learned all the theories. I had learned about trauma. About the importance of community. The impact of racism and oppression. The endless cycle of poverty. White privilege. Cultural humility. I soaked it all in, and I couldn’t wait to start applying this knowledge in the field of social work. Cut to three weeks later, walking into my first day of work at a homeless shelter - and the undeniable truth that I had no idea what I was doing.
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.
I recently spent my day writing final project reports. I wrote about how our project helped one state place peer recovery coaches in hospital emergency rooms to support people recovering from opioid overdoses. Another state expanded supported employment opportunities for transition-age youth. Several states created training and credentialing programs for peer recovery support specialists to help people enter and sustain recovery from mental health conditions and substance use disorders. Another state is re-examining and re-engineering their entire behavioral health crisis response system. We helped a U.S. Territory experiencing a substance use crisis take steps to establish their first-ever recovery community organization. We brought together adults in recovery with family members of adults with behavioral health disorders to discuss ways to improve supports for people in crisis.
Human connection is an integral part of social and emotional health and well-being. Think about the many connections, friendships, and relationships that shape your daily life. When you are in need of support, these relationships are key to providing guidance, happiness, and stability.
Social supports act as a crucial determinant for shaping health outcomes. Research suggests relationships are a significant factor in determining substance use and recovery outcomes. Studies of adolescents suggest that family support and involvement acts as a protective factor against substance use. A study of women experiencing homeless found that those who had less social support were more likely to engage in illicit substance use. A common affirmation in the recovery community— people, places, things—points to how important people can be in impacting one’s journey to recovery. Social networks, including family, friends, community and kinship ties, can act as risk or protective factors in determining an individuals’ path toward recovery.