During National Recovery Month this September, ACF recognizes the importance of prevention and treatment for mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders and celebrates the providers, community members, children, and families who work together to show that recovery is for everyone Visit disclaimer page . I am passionate about supporting the behavioral health needs of children and families, and as co-chair of the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council’s subcommittee on children and youth, I am leading HHS’s work to advance and improve behavioral health care for children and youth, including working to address unmet behavioral health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and finding opportunities to advance health equity. Over the past year and half, I have heard from so many families about the struggles they faced during the pandemic, including layoffs and job loss, economic insecurity, health concerns, working and schooling their children from home, and social isolation. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the behavioral health and wellness of American families and children—making Recovery Month even more important.
ACF supports the recovery of parents and families in numerous ways, including through our Regional Partnership Grants (RPG) program, which works to improve the well-being of children affected by parental substance use disorders by supporting partnerships across child welfare agencies, substance use disorder treatment providers, and other systems. When a family member has a substance use disorder, children in the family may be at increased risk for neglect and child welfare system Visit disclaimer page . Substance misuse has increased in the last several years, and there are concerns that it has further increased during the current public health emergency.
Since RPG began in 2007, the Children’s Bureau has awarded more than 100 grants in six cohorts across 38 states. These grantees have served more than 37,000 children; 27,000 adults; and 22,000 families. The RPG program focuses on building system-level capacity and enhancing safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes for children and their families who are affected by substance use disorders. The grants support interagency collaboration and the integration of programs, services, and activities. Grantees simultaneously address common systemic and practice challenges that result in long-term changes beyond the grant itself.
Services provided by past and current RPG partnerships are intended to address the wide array of needs families have and support families by making services more coordinated and accessible. In the current RPG cohorts, many grantees are providing services that address opioid use. Examples of RPG projects include:
- In Kansas, a family skills training program was designed to increase resilience and reduce risk factors for behavioral, emotional, academic, and social problems.
- Kentucky adopted, implemented, defined, and evaluated the Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) model. Families in START received services from a specially trained child welfare worker paired with a family mentor — a person in long-term recovery from a substance use disorder. The child welfare system collaborated with treatment providers to provide early identification and quick access to needed services for parents and children.
Eighty-one percent of past Regional Partnership Grantees have sustained some or all of their program strategies (PDF) Visit disclaimer page past the end of their grants. As discussed in a recent report to Congress Visit disclaimer page , many RPGs in the second cohort reported making progress toward building interagency collaborations, which ultimately make them more efficient and effective at serving families across state, tribal, and community providers. Grantees described improving communication among partner organizations, increasing the organizations’ ability to collaborate with each other, sharing common goals within partnerships, and building trust and relationships among the partners.
Findings from evaluations suggest that the lives of children and families also improve after they participate in RPG programs. There are indications of improvements in adult recovery from substance use disorders and better family functioning, which in turn improve the safety, permanency, and well-being of children. The national cross-site evaluation of the second cohort of RPGs Visit disclaimer page found that among adults receiving services, high-severity substance use declined, as did use of all substances that were measured. Approximately 79 percent of opioid users reported using prescription opioids at RPG program entry, while only 14 percent reported using opioids at program exit. Children were safer, as measured by fewer reports of maltreatment and removals from the home, and there was also increased permanency among children who had already been removed from their homes.
Programs like RPG that build coordinated systems of care to serve the multifaceted needs of families with substance use disorders are part of the solution as we work to ensure safer homes for our children—and they are especially critical now as families cope with the added stressors of the pandemic.
Beyond the Regional Partnership Grant program, ACF supports recovery in many other ways. For example, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation currently has multiple projects that touch on recovery. The Touchpoints for Addressing Substance Use Issues in Home Visiting project is generating knowledge about how home visiting programs engage and support families around prevention, treatment, and recovery from substance use issues. The Expanding Evidence on Replicable Recovery and Reunification Interventions for Families project is laying a foundation for ACF to evaluate an intervention in which parents engaged in the child welfare system due to substance use disorders are paired with recovery coaches to shorten the time to reunification. In addition, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center offers Stop Observe Ask Respond (SOAR) training designed to equip providers with the information and resources they need to better serve individuals with substance use and/or co-occurring disorders who have experienced trafficking.
Focusing on the behavioral health needs of children and youth is a top priority for this Administration and for HHS. Working together, we will take the actions necessary to ensure that all Americans in recovery are treated with dignity and respect and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.