SCAN Partners on Project to Serve Infants and Women with Substance Use Disorder

In Richmond city, you can get high on $15 a day; if you’re female, drugs are often up for barter. Street heroin comes with a high probability of being cut with lethal, potent drugs such as fentanyl or carfentanyl, both exponentially stronger and deadlier than heroin. Our Governor calls it a public health crisis; Virginia’s health commissioner says it’s an epidemic. According to Virginia Department of Health, drug overdoses – 80% of which are opioid or heroin-related – kill more Virginians than motor vehicle accidents and guns.

Women with substance use disorder (SUD) experience so many barriers to recovery. In the case of pregnant women with SUD, addiction threatens the lives of multiple generations, is associated with poor health outcomes for parents, and correlates with a higher risk of child neglect. While the life stage of pregnancy may bring joy and motivation, pregnancy may also trigger stress and feelings of shame when family, friends, and the community do not care about the ‘why’ of addiction. Very often, the ‘why’ hides in the shadow of childhood trauma – be it physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, neighborhood violence, systemic racism, or extreme poverty. Research shows a dominant cause and cascading consequence of SUD is untreated, multi-layered childhood trauma in adults. Central Virginia Family Resiliency Project will break the SUD trauma-cycle by coupling evidence-based practices with lived-experience wisdom to develop a comprehensive, trauma-informed, gender-responsive approach to SUD for pregnant women and their infants.

Partially funded by Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, SCAN is excited to partner with Family Lifeline and Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU on the Central Virginia Family Resiliency Project will wrap a trauma-informed team around approximately 30 pregnant women with substance use disorder, support them prenatally, give them the best chance at recovery, and set a foundation for the most protective, promotive relationship in a child’s life – that between child and caregiver.

The organizational partners – SCAN, Family Lifeline (FLL), Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) – bring evidence-based models of care that work, such as Seeking Safety, home-visiting, and integrated health care. Foundational to these models, and why we believe in the alchemy of the collaborative, is the common denominator of positive connections. Peer support makes SCAN’s parent groups successful. FLL’s home visiting approach is intensive, long-term, and positions children for success – engaging parent and child in a healthy relationship. CHoR’s two-generational health care delivery for this project removes barriers, assuring that both mother and child are connected to and known by primary care providers. Community team members will bring lived-experience wisdom, which will shape best-practices and enhance peer support.

Our hypothesis is that overlaying a comprehensive, trauma-informed strategy with health care, parent groups, and home visiting will reduce child maltreatment, support early attachment, improve attendance at well-child visits, and decrease emergency department utilization. Further, we believe the engagement of community members will transform how these models can be implemented to increase feelings of safety and trust among mothers, so that they will experience a community that supports their recovery rather than a community that shames, punishes, and exiles them.

Central Virginia Family Resiliency Project will benefit pregnant women with SUD and their infants. Parents with SUD are at higher risk of child neglect. Joined together, we can teach new skills and build positive connections and strong support networks as they recover. The project addresses primary prevention for infants by reducing or preventing exposure to childhood trauma and secondary and tertiary prevention by supporting mothers through recovery and treating their own childhood trauma histories, so they will be more likely to develop healthier relationships with their children, and their children will be more likely to grow up healthy.

 

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