An innovative program that helps heal Ohio families torn apart by addiction is expanding once again.
The Public Children Services Association of Ohio oversees the Ohio START program; START stands for "Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma."
It was launched in 2017 to tackle the rising number of kids in need of foster care. According to Program Director Fawn Gadel, the program focuses on both the parents' and child's trauma.
"We take a holistic approach to treating the family for the issues that have come to arise because of the parents substance use disorder, which really is a game-changer," Gadel said.Family Peer Mentors make up a key aspect of the program, as people who have personal experience with addiction and children's services, and are now in long-term recovery.
As a Family Peer Mentor in Pickaway County, Sarah Rapp knows that she offers a unique perspective on how addiction drives behaviors and decisions.
"It doesn't mean that they don't love their kids, it doesn't mean that they don't want to change," Rapp said, "but how to do it, and how not to judge them so hard to where they just want to give up."
Ohio START is expanding to 14 more counties, bringing the number to 46. State leaders expect to expand the program to a total of 62 counties in the next two years.
As state attorney general, Gov. Mike Dewine helped bring the program to Ohio, and continues to support and fund its expansion.
Gadel said getting parents into treatment quickly is the first step on the road to recovery.
"We strike while the iron's hot, giving the parent the most amount of time that they can have to get those recovery services underway," she explained, "and continuing on until they are healthy, and a safe option for those kids, is really making a difference."
Rapp added that she's looking forward to mentoring more people as her first client graduates from the program.
"It just means a lot when you can help somebody make a total change in their lives," Rapp said. "She has her kid back, she has a job, she's getting housing. She's really doing good."
Ohio START has served nearly 900 adults and 390 children since 2017. The program receives a national award today (Wednesday) from the Addiction Policy Forum at a ceremony at the Statehouse.
This story first ran in the Cleveland Scene