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Leaders seek best practices to help recovering parents

January 6, 2011
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Fall conference highlighted a lack of answers to basics on support for parents

Parent: It’s the job the Betty Ford Center’s Jerry Moe calls the most important he’ll ever have, and the one he was least adequately prepared to perform. So when a parent’s addiction and recovery further complicate the task, it should be a given that systems of care would be ready to provide resources and support.

Yet as the Betty Ford Institute prepared to sponsor a conference last fall on breaking the intergenerational cycle of addiction, its pre-conference survey of 141 treatment centers across the country found little parenting skills training being offered in treatment organizations.

“Where most of the work was being done was in programs for women and their kids, especially in those where the children were living there,” says Moe, national director of the Children’s Program at Betty Ford. And residential programs for women and children represent a scant percentage of all treatment programs. “There you have parents doing groups with their kids, and learning some of the most basic skills,” says Moe. The Sept. 29-Oct. 1 conference in Washington, D.C., featured 40 invited participants from the treatment, research and policy communities, as well as four recovering parents who offered a firsthand perspective on some of the systemic barriers they have experienced. Moe says organizers are working to publish several papers from the conference proceedings, and they intend to convene a follow-up meeting within 12 to 18 months of last fall’s gathering to evaluate the field’s ongoing progress on this subject. Moe says the personal stories shared at last year’s event demonstrated that parents in recovery struggle with basic questions about family functioning. Some wonder how their guilt and shame surrounding addiction affects their parenting. Others get anxious about how they will react to their own children’s initiation to substances. Moe emphasizes that teaching parenting skills should not be interpreted as the sole responsibility of primary treatment programs. At the same time, it should not be assumed that none of this work should occur during primary treatment and that it all should be deferred to post-treatment efforts in recovery-oriented systems of care. “This is an important time in the field, when treatment and community services must work together,” Moe says.

Conference leaders hope their overall efforts in this area will generate momentum toward piloting service initiatives that could be introduced into treatment centers. “I see parent training as part and parcel of relapse prevention,” Moe says.