Norwich to address trauma among children of drug-addicted parents

Norwich — When city officials landed a Partnership for Success grant last year, they planned to use it primarily to dissuade students from abusing prescription drugs.

In implementing the grant, however, they realized there was another issue to address: The trauma students face when someone in their family is struggling with addiction.

So, while still working to educate the public and prevent substance abuse, Angela Duhaime and her colleagues now are exploring ways to identify and help the traumatized, too.

“There are a lot of young kids that are losing their parents to overdoses,” said Duhaime, coordinator of the city’s Partnership for Success grant. “We have noticed that there is a trickle-down impact for those families.”

Many of those children, she explained, are left in the care of grandparents or other extended family members, sometimes finding it hard to adjust.

Even for those who don’t lose a parent to substance abuse, Duhaime said, watching one struggle with it can be equally traumatic.

In November, the city used the grant to fund trauma-related professional development for almost 50 people. Among them were staff members of the public school district, human services and youth and family services.

According to Duhaime, the trainer taught attendees how to recognize the signs of children who may be dealing with trauma — it’s not uncommon for them to act out. The trainer also discussed words that could trigger a traumatized child and how to respond to tense situations in ways that won’t make them worse.

Going forward, Duhaime said she plans to work with the schools to see how they can incorporate social and emotional learning, a process that aims to teach people how to manage their emotions and make responsible decisions.

Duhaime said the city’s youth service bureaus additionally are looking to create groups that would focus on things such as coping skills.

The goal, she said, is to identify and help youth who are at risk before they fall into addiction, too.

Data from the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner show Connecticut is on pace to see more than 1,000 fatal overdoses this year. In the first half of the year, Norwich lost 19 people to overdoses — more than any other town in The Day’s coverage area.

At a conference in Hartford last month, evaluation coordinator Bonnie Smith commended Norwich for paying attention to its data and actively reacting to it.

That’s second nature to Duhaime, who often is focusing on the numbers and what they mean. Case in point: Reached by phone Wednesday, she was in the middle of inputting data from the city’s latest survey initiative.

She’s handling data from three surveys: One taken by Norwich Public Schools of students in grades seven through 12, another administered to students at Three Rivers Community College and a third filled out by community residents. Among other things, the surveys ask participants about their own drug use and about how safe they believe certain drugs are. 

In the last survey, completed within city schools in 2015, more students reported illicitly using prescription drugs in the past 30 days than using alcohol or marijuana. It was the first time that had happened and part of the reason the city applied for the Partnership for Success grant.

Duhaime said she expects to have a report about the latest findings completed early next year. Just as they did when they learned trauma was an issue, city officials will tweak their approach if the data suggest it's necessary.

l.boyle@theday.com

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