The Children’s Program Kit is Back and Better than Ever
“Experiences like growing up with parental addiction, and the chaos and stress that surround it, pop up over and over again as primary causes of toxic stress. But addiction isn’t the only thing we’re looking at here. If children grows up with addiction, that’s probably not the only risk factor in the home. ACEs or adverse childhood experiences tend to cluster; once a home environment is disordered, the risk of witnessing or experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse actually rises dramatically” (Anda et al., 2006).
In the early 2000s, Karol L. Kumpfer, PhD, was director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Kumpfer, a noted researcher and an outstanding evaluator of the state of substance abuse trends and related prevention needs of America’s youth and families, recognized that the prevention programs of those years, including those listed on the National Registry of Effective Programs and Practices (NREPP), did not meet the needs of the one in four children growing up in families with parental addiction. While helpful for the general population of children and youth, existing prevention programs were inadequate to address the silent suffering of these high risk children.
At-Risk Kids Become At-Risk Adults Who Produce At-Risk Kids
Because it is the at-risk population that is most likely to produce the next generation of people with substance use and/or mental health disorders, Dr. Kumpfer sought a practical, flexible program product that could be used in a variety of treatment settings, community organizations and school-based student assistance programs. This would be a kit that could provide education and support that could change the life trajectory of the kinds of kids referenced in the quote by Dr. Rob Anda, the CDC’s director of the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study.
Dr. Kumpfer envisioned reaching thousands of children through the organizations and systems where they were already in the community. The remarkable Children’s Program Kit, created by NACoA in 2003, with the guidance and program materials contributed by many leading experts in providing healing support to children of alcoholics, was the result of her vision. Over 150,000 toolkits were distributed to school counselors, family program directors in treatment programs, youth organizations, and summer camps. The Children’s Program Kit was reprinted twice, and thirty thousand copies of an American Indian version were distributed to help provide education and support to family service programs for the American Indian population. NACoA developed its training services to strengthen programs being initiated across the country, and American Indian trainers took it their communities.
Constantly in Demand
Demand for the Kit has never waned in the thirteen years since its introduction to the prevention, treatment, and recovery support field. Professionals who work with children who are struggling to cope with the daily chaos in their homes have steadily relied on this education tool, and can now help support the children of opioid addiction who comprise the latest wave of children in need of help.
CSAP commissioned an updated and enhanced Children’s Program Kit last year, and it will be available by Children of Alcoholics (CoA) Awareness Week, February 12–19, 2017. In her Huffington Post blog last January titled “The Invisible Children: It’s COA Awareness Week, So Listen Up, This Matters,” Tian Dayton, PhD, addressed the importance of speaking up for children trapped in addicted families. She stressed that
Great strides have been made in bringing the shame of addiction out of the shadows and getting our country and the world to believe recovery can and does happen and is impacting millions to great benefit. However, the biggest little secret remains the countless kids who are being hurt each and every day who don’t get talked about, funded, donated to or brought out of the shadows nearly enough (Dayton, 2016).
And, as a result, so many will continue forward with the negative life consequences of mental health problems, relationships that don’t work, diminished physical health, and carry the family trauma into the next generation.
Why Do We Need CoA Awareness Week?
Children who are trapped in homes with addicted parents live in an atmosphere filled with chaos and confusion. They are trying to be normal kids, trying to develop an identity, and trying to make sense of the world, but the deck is stacked against them. “The children’s lives are wrapped up in reacting to and hiding from the fallout of their parents struggling with all of the conflicts germinating from the drinking and drug use of one parent and the fruitless efforts to control it by the other. The distorted thinking, the emotional outbursts, the hiding, the rage, the passing out, the lying, the bravado, and the mortifying behaviors that are part of addiction rain down upon children from above,” claims Dr. Dayton (2016). Participating in an educational support group with peers offers CoAs a safe opportunity to tell their truth and begin their healing. This is where the rules that govern addicted family systems that we learned from years ago by Dr. Claudia Black—“Don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust”—are broken with each activity and the seven Cs are embedded in the lessons at each age level.
A New and Revised Children’s Program Kit
NACoA is immensely proud of this unique and effective program kit that has already helped many thousands of young people in this country starving for clarity, safety, and hope. The new and enhanced Kit, which can benefit family programs within treatment centers, programs in the growing sober living movement, and support programs in schools and community-based youth programs will include such additions as:
- Specific skills to be acquired from participation in each of the program activities
- More complete messages for parents and caregivers
- New program evaluation forms
- Additional activities offering more healing strategies and support specifically designed for tweens and teenagers
The Kit was reviewed by two members of NACoA’s board of scientific advisers. While it is a program kit, as Dr. Kumpfer requested—that is, a tool to create and implement a children’s support program in multiple settings to address the needs of this population—it is not a program. The researchers matched it against the NIDA Prevention Principles and concluded that a program which used the Kit’s materials and implemented an educational support program as outlined in the Kit should meet the standards for evidence-based programs.
We at NACoA are excited to reintroduce the Children’s Program Kit to the readers of Counselor. We hope you will honor the annual observance of CoA Awareness Week by writing and speaking about the silent suffering of the countless unnamed children who are struggling under the grinding, daily pressure of living with parental addiction. Dr. Dayton reminds us that “they are the forgotten victims of this disease. As we are lifting the secrecy and shame around being an addict, we need to pay equal if not more attention to lifting the shame and secrecy around these innocent victims who live in its dark orbit” (2016). These children can be part of the healing or part of passing the disease down through another generation. It’s up to us.
NACoA has developed several customized trainings for various applications for using the Kit to implement a program of support for CoAs in multiple settings including in family courts. It has even designed and provided a training to implement a national program in Sweden. The sites for use of the original Kit have primarily been those serving the children of clients in treatment and in school-based student assistance programs. Today it is not only being used in CoA-specific summer and weekend camps, but also in youth camps and churches as additional curriculum to existing activities, as part of an equine therapy program for school age children, as an ongoing, stand-alone weekly program in several states, and as one- or two-week CoA-specific camps. The Kit provides all that is needed to implement a program of support. It is also not difficult to train staff to use the program materials and to follow its design manage an effective support program.
From Confusion and Chronic Emotional Pain to Hope and Resilience
During CoA Awareness Week, NACoA follows the healing arrows from silence, confusion, and chronic emotional pain to hope and resilience. We urge you to imagine the millions of children of alcoholic parents (actually 18.5 million in the US alone), who wait for at least one caring adult to speak up and advocate for them and to start by reaching out to advocate and support just one of them. Just follow the arrows.
Awareness leads to empathy in a caring adult. Empathy strengthens the ability and the desire to understand children’s silent but desperate realities. Understanding motivates towards action—both to help children directly and to advocate for appropriate educational support programs for the children who need them. Effective action leads to support that brings hope and healing, making it possible for the children to tap into their own resilience and recovery. And that is why CoA Awareness Week is important, in this country and throughout NACoA’s affiliates in Great Britain, Germany, Slovenia, Poland, and New Zealand.
To find more information and resources for CoA Awareness Week, visit NACoA’s new website: www.nacoa.org.
Anda, R. F., Felliti, V. J., Bremner, J. D., Walker, J. D., Whitfield, C., Perry, B. D., . . . Giles, W. H. (2006). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences from childhood: A convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 256(3), 174–86.
Dayton, T. (2016). The invisible children: It’s CoA awareness week so listen up, this matters. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-tian-dayton/the-invisible-children-it_b_8970102.html