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Safe Communities

Column: Partners in Safety
Children stand with interlocking arms on shoulders facing away
Date Published
April 30, 2024

Protecting the youngest victims of substance use

The substance use and overdose crises have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and affected millions more. A recent RAND study found that more than 40% of Americans know someone who died from an overdose.

Children are especially at risk from the impacts of these crises because they suffer the loss of care and support when a parent or caretaker uses substances, becomes involved in the justice system or experiences an overdose as a result of substance misuse. 

Additionally, children are at greater risk for harm caused by parents and caregivers with a substance use disorder. According to a 2022 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, children living with parents who have a substance use disorder are at an increased risk of having a variety of emotional, cognitive, behavioral and social problems, and are more likely to experience maltreatment.  Other HHS research shows that children in households where someone has a substance use disorder are more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse.

As part of the Office of Justice Programs’ efforts to support youth impacted by the substance use and overdose crises, the Office for Victims of Crime supports organizations that understand the impact of a parent’s or caretaker’s substance misuse on young victims and are dedicated to supporting them by providing advocacy, physical and mental health services and other support services.

During National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, we highlighted some of the OVC-funded programs focused on protecting and supporting children affected by the substance use and overdose crises.

Date Published: April 30, 2024

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Illuminate Colorado - Illuminating Childcare Program

Motorhome RV with text illuminate Building Brighter Childhoods

Illuminate Colorado, a nonprofit based in Denver, serves families with adults experiencing substance use conditions by implementing programs, policies and initiatives aimed at protecting children and keeping them safe. The organization offers programs that address child maltreatment from multiple angles to effect lasting change. One of those programs is Illuminating Child Care. This program provides an innovative systemic approach to increase access to childcare for parents and caregivers. By partnering with community-based nonprofits, local substance use disorder treatment providers and government agencies, the program provides personalized navigation for their clients while supporting them as they build resiliency, manage stress and learn effective coping skills.

Legal Aid of West Virginia - Lawyer in the School

Logo for Legal Aid of West Virginia - Lawyer in the School

Legal Aid of West Virginia provides free legal services and advocacy to every county in the state. The nonprofit’s Lawyer in the School program offers onsite, free legal aid to students’ families. The program stabilizes the lives of children and their families by helping to resolve issues such as custody disputes, disrupted income and eviction. By removing barriers to legal assistance, the program seeks to stabilize families and improve educational outcomes for the child victims involved.

Thirtieth Judicial District (North Carolina) - Animal Assisted Therapy

Woman poses with dog

Serving the seven far western counties of North Carolina, the 30th Judicial District Alliance works with individuals, organizations and agencies to provide outreach, advocacy and training services to empower survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. This includes children who have been exposed to violence and trauma. In North Carolina, 40 percent of cases where a child has been removed from the home are the result of parental substance use. One strategy the nonprofit uses to support child victims is offering animal-assisted therapy programs that address mental, emotional and behavioral symptoms that may result from experiencing trauma. The Log Dog Therapy and Service Dogs Program incorporates therapy dogs in the Children Exposed to Violence program, using the dogs to promote healing from trauma.

Butler County (Ohio) Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board and Envision Partnerships - Camp Mariposa and Handle with Care

Children stand with interlocking arms on shoulders facing away

The Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board partners with community stakeholders to provide resources to county residents in need of mental health and substance use services. One of these organizations is Envision Partnerships, a nonprofit with a focus on prevention programming. Envision Partnerships empowers families and communities through programs and initiatives that create positive change. Camp Mariposa, a year-round weekend youth camp in southwest Ohio, is a substance use prevention and mentoring program for youth affected by the substance use disorder of a loved one. Handle with Care is a trauma-informed, cross-systems collaborative initiative with the goal of ensuring children who experience adverse encounters with law enforcement or first responders receive appropriate interventions and positive resiliency-building interactions with teachers and staff at school.

National Children’s Advocacy Center (Alabama) – Child Advocacy, Resilience, Education and Support

Child sits between two multigenerational women.

The National Children’s Advocacy Center’s mission is to champion and strengthen the global response to child abuse. The NCAC offers diverse services and programs to individuals, families and the community and was the first Children’s Advocacy Center in the world. One of those services is the Child Advocacy, Resilience, Education and Support team. CARES is a treatment-focused community resource and referral team that addresses the comprehensive needs of children and families impacted by a parent or caregiver’s substance use disorder, including the parent or caregiver. Services include trauma therapy, family advocacy and support groups.

For additional information and resources on this topic, visit the Drugs and Substance Use webpage. 

In addition, please check out new funding opportunities through the Opioid Affected Youth Initiative and Mentoring for Youth Affected by Opioid and Other Substance Misuse program administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.