Unique collaboration aimed at keeping families intact

As more parents struggle with substance use disorder, more child protective cases are filed, and more parents are at risk of losing custody of their children to foster care.

A first-of-its-kind collaboration is working to break this chain of events and keep families intact. The team includes the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS), Indiana University Health, Indiana University School of Social Work and IU Health Foundation. Supported by an $813,000 grant from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, secured by IU Health Foundation, the collaboration will operate a two-year pilot program in Marion County.

Substance use disorders are often identified only when a DCS caseworker visits a home or a parent is in front of a judge in a custody hearing. Though parents at risk of losing custody due to substance use disorder are highly motivated to get treatment, the path to treatment is unclear and slow. The new program will connect parents with IU Health peer recovery coaches at the moment when they are at greatest risk of losing custody or prolonging separation from their children. These specially trained coaches – who themselves have experienced addiction and are in long-term recovery – can offer recovery resources on the spot via virtual care technology, potentially allowing children to remain in the home, or at least spend less time in foster care, while the parent is pursuing wellness.

“As the state’s largest healthcare system, IU Health is in a unique position to identify community health needs and marshal resources to address them. In this case, it allows us to meet people where they are, at home or in a courtroom,” said Jami Marsh, executive director, system philanthropic strategy for IU Health Foundation. “We are grateful for our partners in this effort and to the Fairbanks Foundation for funding this important work.”

Peer recovery coaches work on the IU Health Virtual Care Behavioral Health team and have access to professionals who consult on specific cases. After an initial consultation, individual treatment plans – which could include intensive outpatient recovery programs – are determined. Follow-up takes place within 48 hours after the initial consultation.

“Opioid use disorder and substance use disorder often create a tragic domino effect that hits Indiana’s children and families especially hard,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the Fairbanks Foundation. “This collaboration will provide patients with access to treatment at a vulnerable time, increasing the likelihood of their success with recovery and helping to reduce the risk of family separation due to addictions.”

DCS has had positive experiences with programs involving peer recovery coaching in Monroe County, where the program showed that quick access to treatment and supportive addiction services were key.

“Our first responsibility is ensuring the safety of the child or children,” said David Reed, deputy director of child welfare services at DCS. “Ultimately, we want to preserve the family unit, so if we can get the adults in the home the help they need while keeping their family together, then we have succeeded.”

In the last five years, the percentage of child protective cases in Marion County has spiked. In 2017 alone, parent drug abuse was a factor in 53.7% of child protective cases. The full extent of the problem may be even larger, but data collection is incomplete. A secondary benefit of this program will be data gathering and analysis, which the IU School of Social Work will manage as part of the program evaluation.

Assuming the intervention program is successful, the IU Health Foundation intends to secure additional funding to continue and expand the program.

To contribute to programs you care about, or learn more about the IU Health Foundation, visit iuhealthfoundation.org.