Families of youth with substance use disorders: The emerging voice

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On March 27 and 28, 2009, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) convened the first national meeting of family members  of youth with substance use disorders  (SUD). The purpose of this historic meeting was to bring together representatives of families of youth who were receiving, or who had received, treatment for substance use disorders, to identify challenges and opportunities to improve the adolescent treatment/recovery system, and to strengthen family involvement in that system at Federal, State, and Tribal levels. Family members from 34 States, the District of Columbia and 4 Tribal Nations attended the conference.

The NFD brought families and other stakeholders together to discuss issues and to discover how the disease of addiction affects adolescents, families and communities regardless of social –economic, gender, geography, race/ethnicity, language or sexual orientation. They found a common cause and left as allies, willing and able to collaborate.

Thus began the initial formation of the National Family Dialogue. With support from SAMHSA, CSAT and JBS, Sharon Smith LeGore and Shannon CrossBear were able to continue the conversation and develop mechanisms to begin addressing and acting upon the recommendations brought forth by the NFD.

The NFD has provided an opportunity for family members of youth with substance use disorders to begin developing a unified voice within the treatment/recovery system. It enables them to discuss strategies for creating sustainable family involvement in the substance use disorder treatment/recovery system.  Increased family member participation helps the system effectively, efficiently, and equitably address the needs of youth and provides the greatest possibility of recovery, not only for the youth, but also for parents, caregivers, and siblings.

Our approach has always been based on responding to the identified needs as described by families. We have looked to the lessons provided in other issue focused national family driven movements. Though we are closely aligned with other child serving systems such as Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, often serving the same families, families identified the need to have Substance Use Disorders voice to address the specific needs and experiences within the SUD system. At the same time, most families with substance use disorders are working with at least two other child serving systems.  Our approach is to build a strong independent organized voice  with the purpose of that voice being infused into all child serving systems. Since youth and their families find themselves in multiple systems it is critical that they get the information, treatment and support that they need where ever they may be found.

Given the current pockets of excellence within local and state substance use disorder families, groups, and organizations across the country, the opportunity to create a strong national voice is within reach. That organized voice can coordinate learning and resource exchange, educate on national initiatives impacting families, such as the Affordable Health Care Act and inform decision makers of the family experiences when seeking and or accessing treatment and recovery services and support.  The NFD also includes a network to provide direct support to families seeking information and services.


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