“Giving people unconditional love each time they fall is so important. Feeling seen at your worst and at your best is so important. Meeting people where they’re at, no matter where they’re at…Just being there for them is just so important.” —Chip, a Vermont parent in recovery who recently spoke on a panel about substance use hosted by BBF, the Vermont Department of Health, and the City of Burlington’s Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Committee
Substance use disorder seriously affects children and families in the state of Vermont, with a skyrocketing rate of overdose that’s one of the highest in the country. A $100,000 grant from the University of Vermont that began in 2019 has allowed Building Bright Futures to help support Vermont families dealing with substance use disorder.
Over the course of this project, the BBF Network has convened partners to identify gaps and unmet needs to support families throughout treatment and recovery; increased coordination of services to support families dealing with substance use disorder; formed a Community of Practice planning team to tackle this issue collectively; created and distributed substance use disorder infographics to reach families through social media, postcards, and emails during the COVID-19 pandemic; developed cross-sector strategies to improve on the existing system of care; and empowered families and communities with lived experience with substance use disorder to be leaders on this issue.
On June 7, BBF hosted an event called “Seeds of Hope” as part of this project, in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Health and the City of Burlington’s Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Committee. The online event opened with remarks by Dr. Morgan Crossman, BBF’s executive director, followed by a keynote speech by Grace Keller, who is a leading harm reduction expert and coordinates the Safe Recovery program at the Howard Center in Burlington. Safe Recovery is Vermont’s oldest and largest syringe exchange program and has also distributed 35,000 doses of Narcan, a medication used to reverse overdoses and save lives. Grace spoke about offering pathways to treatment and recovery without judgment or stigma, and about how the issue of substance use doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is connected to and exacerbated by other pressing issues such as homelessness, domestic violence, and child abuse.
One key piece of this program has been to empower families and to elevate the voice of those with lived experience and community partners supporting them. The Seeds of Hope session was a critical example of empowerment and bringing experts together, experts being families with lived experience, to share their stories and to name and elevate the successes and challenges they’ve faced. A panel of five Vermont parents then shared their personal experiences with substance use disorder. It was powerful to hear the diverse stories of these panelists, some of them parents who’ve lost children to overdose, some of them parents who themselves have struggled with substance use as they raise young children. Heidi said, “My children are a huge part of my recovery. They always have been.” She shared that when her daughter was born, “I needed to be able to give her the best life that she could possibly have,” and that meant getting into recovery.
Panelists also offered messages of hope. Alexis shared, “For others also struggling with substance use disorder, I’d like to say [recovery] is possible! I never thought for myself that I could be where I am today, not even three years in recovery technically yet. I bought my first home, a mortgage on a home, and I never thought I’d do that in a lifetime… For the doctors and anyone else that have been helping people get to recovery, never will I ever be able to thank all of you enough for everything that you all do. You have given my daughter her mom back, you have given my sister and my dad and mom their daughter and sister back.”
Heidi added: “I chose to work in the recovery community, so being able to offer support to other parents is really powerful for me. It reminds me on a daily basis why I chose recovery…If my wisdom can offer just one person some hope, it’s worth it for me.”
The panelists recommended sources of support that have helped them, such as therapy, twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon, support groups connecting with others in recovery or others who have lost children to overdose, and the Safe Recovery program at the Howard Center. Kim, who lost a child to overdose, said: “I also found the NAMI [National Alliance on Mental Illness] parent group, a family support group which still meets in Burlington twice monthly, and that also was very helpful and had…concrete support and guidance…where to go for treatment, where to go for support for yourself, and I felt like those resources were really lacking for…us as a family.” Lisa, another parent who lost a child, agreed: “I find it very very helpful to have relationships with moms who have gone through the same thing and use them as role models on how to feel the loss, but yet have some peace with it, and know that our loved ones are at peace now and not suffering anymore.”
The event reached about 100 people, with 40 people attending on Zoom and more than 60 views of the video so far. This event was aimed at service providers and community members who wanted to learn from the experiences of the panelists about how to reduce barriers to support and treatment. Thank you to all who participated for being vulnerable, brave, and partners in this effort to raise awareness of the needs and challenges of families experiencing substance abuse disorder.
There is much more work to be done, including prevention, supporting those who are struggling, increasing community awareness, reducing stigma, and meeting the needs of underserved populations such as new Americans immigrating from other countries. As the UVM grant period concludes, BBF is seeking additional funding to continue this important work in collaboration with our partners.
Our partners in this work include:
- Howard Center
- KidSafe Collaborative
- Champlain Valley Head Start
- Northwestern Counseling & Support Services
- Child Care Resource
If you or someone you know needs support in dealing with substance use, there are resources available from the Vermont Department of Health – Division of Alcohol & Drug Abuse Programs. You can also read more on the BBF Substance Use Disorder project site.