Academic journal article Social Work

"Friends in Need": Designing and Implementing a Psychoeducational Group for School Children from Drug-Involved Families

Academic journal article Social Work

"Friends in Need": Designing and Implementing a Psychoeducational Group for School Children from Drug-Involved Families

Article excerpt

Despite widespread recognition of the risks that parental drug use pose to children, few resources are available to help such children. Using a developmental intervention approach, the authors designed and tested a model curriculum for use with groups of latency-aged children in schools located in communities where drug use is pervasive. In implementing this curriculum, the authors documented the need that children affected by family drug use have for workable strategies and skills for coping with aversive environments. The responsiveness of group participants to structure, predictability, and affirmation in the groups was remarkable. Measurable changes occurred in classroom behavior and feelings of self-worth. Obstacles to implementing and testing such an intervention are discussed.

Key words: children; drug-involved parents; intervention; psychoeducational

Growing up in a home where adults use drugs poses significant risks to the psychosocial development of children (Dote, Kauffman, Nelson-Zlupko, & Granfort, 1996; Hayford, Epps, & Dahl-Regis, 1988; Scherling, 1994). These risks have multiple sources. First and foremost are the risks to fetal development from drug exposure in utero, which may lead to low birthweight, physical deformities, mental retardation, and other problems (Behnke & Eyler, 1992; Finnegan & Kendall, 1992). Maternal drug use in pregnancy is often combined with poor nutrition and lack of prenatal care, compounding the risk of poor outcomes for these infants. Furthermore, children born to drug-involved parents may be inadequately nurtured physically and emotionally during their formative years (Hawley, Halle, Drasin, & Thomas, 1995; Williams-Petersen et al., 1994). Child welfare workers commonly receive reports of infants and small children left alone for hours or even days while drug-using parents seek their next high. Addicted parents may forget to feed their children, bathe them, or comb their hair. Children as young as three or four years old may function as caregivers for parents or younger siblings.

Children in drug-involved families are often exposed to, and themselves experience, physical and sexual violence and other forms of trauma (Jaudes, Ekwo, & Van Voorhis, 1995; Kelleher, Chaffin, Hollenberg, & Fischer, 1994). It is estimated that 60 percent to 80 percent of children currently entering the foster care system do so because of abuse or neglect associated with familial substance abuse (Barth, Courtney, Berrick, & Albert, 1994; Jaudes et al., 1995). Parents abusing stimulants such as crack cocaine are more prone to agitation and are easily irritated by a child's normal chatter and play. They may lash out verbally or physically as a result. Violence among drug-using adults is common and frequently observed by young children. Many such children have also witnessed their addicted mothers prostituting for drug money or have been prostituted themselves by parents desperate for their next hit.

Not all children living in drug-involved families suffer negative consequences, particularly those who experience compensatory caregiving. However, by the time they reach school age many of these children demonstrate cognitive delays (van Baar, 1990), attenuated attention spans, difficulties in concentration (Bauman & Dougherty, 1983), and emotional and behavioral problems (Hawley et al., 1995; Johnson, Bonney, & Brown, 1990-91), all of which make classroom functioning difficult and threaten school failure. Like their parents, they often have few internalized behavior controls and, as a result, disrupt the classroom. They may become easily frustrated and explosive, lack rudimentary social skills, and be physically aggressive or, alternatively, they may withdraw from others. Negative self-evaluation and low self-worth may result from rejection by teachers and classmates.

Despite widespread recognition of the risks that parental drug use poses to children, few resources are available to help such children. …

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