The Child Outcomes Accountability Team (COAT) is one of seven committees monitoring progress toward Vermont’s Early Childhood Action Plan (VECAP), with a focus on Goal 1: All children have a healthy start. To support a child’s well-being, we must consider the well-being of the entire family.
It is particularly challenging to support family well-being when a family member is impacted by substance use disorder (SUD). Through our work around SUD both regionally and statewide, we’ve seen our partners continue to struggle to fully support families. A child care provider or pediatrician may express concern for a parent who experiences SUD; a parent may struggle to get treatment because they lack consistent child care.The adult recovery and treatment systems are rarely integrated with the early childhood system.
Last year, BBF hosted an event called “Seeds of Hope” with support from a grant from the University of Vermont and in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Health and the City of Burlington’s Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Committee. At the event, a panel of five Vermont parents shared their personal experiences with substance use disorder. One parent, Heidi, said, “My children are a huge part of my recovery. They always have been.” She shared that when her daughter was born, she “needed to be able to give her the best life,” and that meant getting into recovery.
At the March 23, 2023, COAT meeting, BBF invited two experts from the Vermont Department of Health’s Division of Substance Use Programs (DSU) to help us explore the intersection of family needs and substance use disorder: Megan Mitchell, who described the statewide supports available through the DSU, and Mariah Ogden, who spoke about the DSU’s VT Helplink program.
The goals of the meeting were to:
- Understand the impact of SUD on Vermont’s children and families
- Hear from state and regional partners who shared strategies they are using to support families and communities impacted by SUD
- Discuss the barriers and challenges associated with supporting families impacted by SUD, particularly the intersection between early childhood services and the adult treatment system
From Mitchell, participants learned about the DSU’s work on substance use prevention, education, intervention, harm reduction, overdose prevention, community response, treatment, and recovery and transitional housing (including housing for people with children, a newer initiative). Ogden introduced COAT members to VT Helplink, which serves as a single point of contact for Vermonters seeking information and support for substance use.
Participants then examined local and regional strategies to support families navigating substance use. The team discussed gaps in substance use disorder treatment, support, and resources in their communities and explored ways in which supports could be better integrated with other services that families are already navigating.
The meeting concluded with a discussion of key strategies to reduce barriers and support families by:
- Eliminating stigma and mitigating fear related to potential Family Services Division involvement
- Helping treatment programs to partner with child care programs or pilot their own child care programming for families in recovery
- Leveraging Medicaid transportation and VTrans resources
These strategies will be considered as COAT develops policy recommendations for the State Advisory Council this fall.
More about the Child Outcomes Accountability Team
The charge of the Child Outcomes Accountability Team (COAT) is to improve integration and coordination among early childhood public and private partners. To ensure that Vermont’s children are healthy, thriving, and developmentally on track from the prenatal period through age 8, COAT promotes and monitors outcomes in physical health, development, education, mental health, and basic needs.
More About VECAP Committees
Originally established in 2013 along with the Vermont Early Childhood Framework, the VECAP is a structure around which to build coordinated action across public and private stakeholders throughout Vermont. It centers around making measurable changes in early childhood outcomes through identification of common goals, strategies to reach those goals, and the use of common language to align initiatives.
The seven VECAP Committees are:
- Child Outcomes Accountability Team
- Data and Evaluation Committee
- Early Childhood Interagency Coordinating Team
- Early Childhood Investment Committee
- Early Learning and Development Committee
- Families and Communities Committee
- Professional Preparation and Development Committee