Caring for babies exposed to opioids
Catholic Charities is responding to the opioid epidemic by partnering with Cincinnati Children’s to identify the best practices in serving infants, children and their parents.
About 1,100 newborns affected by opioids were treated by Cincinnati Children’s last year – 300 infants were treated for withdrawal and 800 tested positive for drugs.
These infants tend to be more irritable. They have difficulty eating, sleeping and being comforted.
Michelle Swartz, a Catholic Charities Early Childhood Consultant, is part of the Children of Addicted Parents collaborative coordinated by Cincinnati Children’s. It’s comprised of physicians and social service agencies to explore programs to treat these children in Butler, Warren, Clermont and Hamilton counties.
“A mother dependent on drugs is less likely to be attuned to her baby’s need. Her baby may be more irritable and difficult to comfort,” Michelle explained. “Healthy attachment needs to be formed within the first two years of life. Children are at risk of developing reactive attachment disorder if they don’t establish a healthy attachment with a parent or guardian early.”
This disorder can make it difficult for a child to form normal, loving relationships with others. Children with this disorder may have difficulty trusting others which creates issues at home and school.
So Michelle is teaching parents struggling with substance abuse how to touch their new babies with massages. Massage has been researched to be effective for the child and the parent.
The new parenting class teaches parents how to massage their baby to enhance their attachment and attunement to the infant’s needs. This reduces infant irritability and eating difficulties while increasing sleep. Massage also decreases parental stress, depression and the likelihood of using drugs again.
“We hope we may be able to make a difference,” Michelle said. “We are enhancing through touch. It’s been researched to be effective with substance abusing mothers. We hope we may be able to help some of those parents.”
The five week parenting massage class is for infants between six weeks and eight months old. It’s not just for drug exposed infants. The classes are open to any parent or primary caregiver who would like to improve their bond with their baby, Swartz said.
Catholic Charities Early Childhood Program also serves Toddlers, Preschoolers and Families affected by Opioid Epidemic.
“We see the effects in toddlers ranging from poor muscle development to sensory and cognitive development,” said Pam Mortensen, who leads Catholic Charities Early Childhood Program and other family-focused classes. “They may display explosive behavior, ADHD, vision and respiratory problems. They can be either hyperactive or hypertonic.”
Catholic Charities consultants assess children at home and child care centers. Mortensen said, “Through Early Childhood Mental Health services we can assess and support these children and their families. We also serve recovering addicts who have had babies by providing education and mental health services. We recognized the signs of drug exposure in their children.”
Catholic Charities provides services through assessment, referral, parenting classes and community advocacy. Catholic Charities is proud to be part of responding the needs of children affected by the opioid epidemic.
Excessive truancy and fighting at school led a juvenile court judge to order a Middletown girl to Catholic Charities’ Why Try program. Emma, just 14, and her mother, Jenny, entered the 10-week program that includes classes for parents, too.
Emma and Jenny often fought with each other, but the classes uncovered that both desired to repair their relationship. During the classes, Emma shared that she had been bullied in school and struggled with anxiety and depression. Her history of abuse and mental health struggles led to behavior problems.
Why Try and the Parent Project taught the daughter and mother to communicate positively and build new skills for more productive relationships. Follow up with Juvenile Court has successfully resolved the judge’s concerns and Emma’s case is now closed. She attends school regularly and no longer lashes out in anger at others. Emma finished the school year with the highest grade she had ever received in French class.
Why Try is the youth companion program for the Parent Project. It’s designed for ages 12 to 17. Catholic Charities began offering this curriculum in October 2015 through the support of the Strong Families Safe Communities grant from the Department of Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Incredible Years, Incredible Results
Samantha was valedictorian when she graduated from high school. But soon this Butler County youth with so much promise became pregnant, gave birth and fell victim to heroin.
Her mother is now raising her son, Bryan. His grandmother always wants the best for him and involves herself as his parent in any way that she can despite a physical handicap. Yet Bryan knows his mother’s sad story and started showing signs in the second grade of Reactive Attachment Disorder. This disorder may occur in children who have been unable to consistently connect with a parent or primary caregiver.
“At the beginning of the school year, Bryan could not handle any sort of disagreement at school; he would shut down and run to sit alone with his head down, without being able to communicate what had happened at all,” his teacher explained.
Then her entire class experienced Catholic Charities Incredible Years Dina School Program. The Dina program uses innovative, life-sized puppets to teach proper social and emotional skills.
“After the first 30 minute Dina School came and passed, it was as if a switch in his head turned back on to remind him of how to consciously react. He was eager to share what he had previously learned from years past with the facilitator,” his teacher said. “Bryan now looks forward to Dina School each Tuesday and is a respectful contributor. I have even caught him giving his peers friendly reminders to use their ‘ignore shield’ or ‘go to their happy place’ when they become frustrated. He realizes that there are successful ways of handling social situations and is able to listen to others and explain his reasoning without becoming angry.”
The behavior turnaround is dramatic and his teacher believes Bryan is better prepared to be a good student and life-long learner. This is the foundation for a successful life.
Incredible Years is a nationally recognized program offered by Catholic Charities in Butler County. The program focuses on children from preschool to age seven with behavioral problems as well as their parents and teachers. Incredible Years is designed to prevent and treat behavior problems in children, strengthen parenting skills and improve the relationship between parent and child. Learn more.
Learning to Manage Emotions
Five-year-old AJ’s autism led to aggressive and violent outbursts in class. He risked expulsion for hitting his teacher and other students.
Catholic Charities’ Early Childhood Mental Health consulting services intervened. A consultant trained in early childhood mental health met with the school director, teacher and AJ’s mother to assess the situation and develop an action plan.
The consultant identified a number of sensory issues that needed to be managed. Together, with the teacher, the consultant designed a behavior modification plan that the family supported. The goal was to reduce sensory issues that led to violent outbursts.
The plan was shared with AJ so he could learn how to better regulate his behavior in the classroom. His teacher, now more sensitive of potential triggers, developed de-escalation strategies. His mother reinforced good behavior with positive praise at home.
The plan is working. AJ has not had any incidents of aggression since being referred to the consultant.
Learn more about Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, here.
Classes Provide Incredible Results
Celeste was looking for help in managing two toddler daughters, particularly when it came to tantrums.
“My four-year-old’s emotions were so extreme. I was exhausted repeating myself and hearing myself yell all day,” Celeste explained. “I was so frustrated because the things I was doing didn’t seem to be helping my daughter feel better when her feelings got out of hand.”
So Celeste enrolled in Incredible Years. Her husband, who couldn’t attend due to business travel, would review the class materials Celeste brought home. The Incredible Years principles enabled the couple to turnaround a tumultuous household into a peaceful environment.
“We have learned to cherish ‘special play time’ and include it in our daily routine. The girls have benefited immensely from the individual attention and have learned to play very well by themselves. We have instituted a daily routine, and they do great with that consistency. We have learned to watch them closely, and we pay extra attention and praise the things they do right,” Celeste explained.
Other principles applied from Incredible Years include giving children choices and teaching them about consequences so that they can be part of the discipline process. Consistency is also important.
“We have learned to stay calm and rely on each other when that becomes challenging,” Celeste added. “The once daily ‘time outs’ are now used infrequently. Most of the time my house is a calm place.
Celeste credits her Incredible Years group leaders for sharing their real-life experience and enhancing the credibility of the classroom materials. Her daughters love the “calm down tools,” reward charts and checklists provided as part of Incredible Years.
Incredible Years, a nationally recognized program, is offered by Catholic Charities across Butler County. This program targets children (preschool to seven years of age) with behavioral problems, their parents and teachers. It is designed to prevent and treat behavior problems in children and strengthen parenting skills and the parent/child relationship.
For more information about Incredible Years, visit Incredible Years.
Playtime Brings Peace
“Nuts!” is how stay-at-home mom, Elizabeth, described her household. A therapist referred her to Incredible Years parenting program due to Elizabeth’s frustrations dealing with her 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
She spent most of the day screaming at her children, particularly her son. She felt like everything was one big argument with him. Yet when her husband returned home, her children responded to his direction, which frustrated her. Elizabeth felt he didn’t understand what she was experiencing since the kids seemed to listen to him – what was HER problem, anyway?
Elizabeth craved peace in her family. She wanted her children to have memories of feeling loved by their mother and she feared that wasn’t the environment that she was providing. At the start of the Incredible Years program, she was discouraged and angry at herself for not doing better. She wore guilt like a heavy blanket.
It didn’t take long to realize that Elizabeth was taking the program seriously – practicing the strategies that support building strong parent-child relationships. So often this relationship is harmed from extensive yelling and spanking.
Parents learn that behavior will change if they use new strategies, but they must practice the strategies at home. Parents are coached over a few months since it takes time to change behavior and develop new habits. They’re encouraged to forgive themselves if they fall back into old habits and to keep moving forward.
The start of the Incredible Years program teaches a basic skill on how to “play” effectively with a child that sends a clear message that the parent is giving the child quality attention. Parents learn how to use descriptive commenting and praise for short periods of time.
Elizabeth recently reported that in a few short weeks things are very different at home. She has found that spending the “playtime” with her children has resulted in better behavior. Children often misbehave to get some attention.
She’s calmer now and has fewer challenges with her children. She shared that her kids seem happier and wear bright smiles when she plays with them. She is more likely to recognize her son’s strengths: he is a good big brother, listens to his teacher, and plays nicely with his friends.
Learn how Incredible Years can benefit your children.
Learning to be Good Parents
All Jason and Nicky wanted were to be better parents for their one-year-old son. They knew they were inexperienced. Their families told them
So, they enrolled in Parenting Education Classes to gain parenting skills. Pre-tests scored both parents low in knowledge of discipline alternatives and appropriate expectations for children.
Classroom instruction on child development was eye opening for both.
Take their son’s behavior for example. He’d throw and dump toys. Initially, Jason would become frustrated because his son was making a mess. But when he learned that this was age-appropriate behavior, Jason relaxed and created opportunities for his son to master throwing and dumping skills without the fear of having his hand smacked.
Nicky shared she was struggling with stress and had previously been diagnosed with social anxiety, which she was not being treated. When she discussed her family history with the instructor, it became apparent that additional mental health services would benefit the health of her family and enable Nicky to reach her full potential as a woman and mother. Each week the instructor would encourage Nicky to connect with the intake worker and coached her on strategies to overcome her anxiety using the phone to make the initial call.
By the end of the course both parents scored much better on the Knowledge of Discipline Alternatives post-test, 100% and 97%, showing significant growth in their understanding of the importance of positive child guidance versus hitting and yelling. Nicky also made a big breakthrough by completing her assessment for mental health services and beginning counseling to deal with unresolved issues.
Together, they took a positive step to becoming positive parents.
Catholic Charities offers an eight-week course designed to assist at-risk, low-income parents increase their knowledge of child development, develop appropriate discipline skills, and otherwise improve the relationship with their children. Parents can join at any time. There is no fee for Butler County residents and a modest fee for non-residents, $60/individual; $80/couple.
Protecting Children Through Incredible Years
Imagine your first-grader being sent home from school – suspended for bad behavior. It happens.
You want your child to be successful, but when their behavior stands in the way of them learning to read, what do you do? Call Pam Mortensen at Incredible Years.
“One dad was adamant. He was spanked as a child and grew up to be successful. So, if spanking worked for him, he didn’t understand why it wasn’t working for his son,” Pam explains. The father, Steve, was at a loss for why is 5-year-old Bryan was struggling to get along with other students. Bryan was failing kindergarten.
Incredible Years is a 14-week class for families. It teaches children calming skills and how to recognize their feelings. These skills are crucial because children who misbehave – or act out – are at a higher risk of abuse. Parents learn skills such as praise strategies to encourage more positive behavior from their children. So, if you don’t want your child to yell, praise them when they’re speaking with their inside voice.
“We want to promote loving our most precious resource in our society, our children. We know these parents love their children, and we know parenting is hard,” Pam says. “Sometimes the relationship between the parent and the child has been harmed. Sometimes the parents come in crying. They’re so frustrated. They don’t know what to do. They’re angry at their kids. They’re embarrassed. They don’t realize their child is just reacting to their environment.”
Now Steve is a believer. Incredible Years has given him and his wife new, practical strategies for managing their son’s behavior. Bryan is now in the first grade and getting along with his classmates.
To learn more about Incredible Years, call Pam at 513-867-7063.
Turning a Two-Year-Old Around
Ethan was biting other kids and had been booted out of day care. His mother was told the only way the two-and-half year old could return was to get Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio involved.
Catholic Charities served more than 1,000 children like Ethan last year through Early Childhood Mental Health Services. Consultants go into day care centers, assess the classrooms, interview the teachers and parents, and observe the child and classmates. Then they design an intervention plan.
“Our main goal is to develop the child’s social and behavioral skills,” Pam Mortensen, director of community outreach in Butler County, says. “These are foundational skills that are critical to the child’s long-term success.
Ethan had problems engaging with other children. He wanted to play with them but he was aggressive. The other children would shy away out of fear of being hit or bitten.
His consultant partnered with his teacher to provide incentives such as sticker charts for every time Ethan was “caught being good.” His teacher would reward him with a sticker to focus Ethan on doing the right thing. The consultant recommended teaching leadership skills, too. Even at a young age children can be given responsibilities like pouring milk for others and leading the line. Quickly, Ethan has become a model student.
Sometimes the interventions can be physical changes to the classroom to minimize over-stimulating the child or creating visual clues for children who may struggle with verbal commands. Some action plans include skill building exercises for teachers and parents or referrals to doctors.
“Social and emotional development is tied to long-term mental health, so this is preventative treatment,” Pam says. “We see anxiety early. Children are experiencing stress and their brains are trying to cope. They’re acting it out and harming others.”
This program serves children under the age of six from high risk families in Butler County.
Families Don’t Come With Instructions
Some parents are urged by friends or relatives to contact Catholic Charities for parenting and family services. Others see our limited advertising or learn about our services at their parish. And some, like Molly, are referred by a court.
Molly, who is about 40 years old, is in recovery from substance abuse. That substance abuse cost her job, her home and ultimately her three children. Clean and sober for almost a year, she petitioned the court to return custody of her kids and allow them to live with her in her new apartment. Before considering that request, the judge instructed her be evaluated by one of our counselors.
Molly took a series of tests that measure an adult’s use of empathy and understanding to determine their capacity for building a nurturing environment. She also was evaluated for her attitudes toward discipline and punishment – and ability to distinguish the two. Finally, a counselor probed her ability to manage frustration and manage anger in emotional situations.
Molly did not do well. Having been raised in a troubled home, she understood all of the rules for adapting and blending into society, but when it came to family life, she lacked a positive model. She was at a high risk to be an abusive parent and custody could not be recommended.
Our team enrolled her in a parenting program, one of the few in the region that prepares at-risk families for the real-life stresses and challenges of raising children. Through several weeks of coaching and role playing, Molly learned the skills her own family never taught her. Because the advice and the education she received, Molly quickly made progress and now demonstrates the coping and management skills of a parent at a very low risk of abuse.
She still has a ways to go. She was awarded temporary custody of her children in the fall and is still being supervised. But her family is together and the children are thriving. With the support of a caring community, they will continue to write their own happy ending.
Teaching Parents How to Be Parents
One of the primary goals of the parenting education classes is to strengthen families and in the case of Justin and Tina participation in the classes directly impacted reunifying their broken family.Justin and Tina lost custody of their children when their substance abuse led them into a neglectful lifestyle. The couple was directed to complete parenting classes with Catholic Charities as one of the many requirements for their children to return home. Justin and Tina wanted their children home desperately since the children, ages 2 and 3 years, were scared and confused being also separated from one another living with different relatives.
Catholic Charities has a strong belief that these vulnerable parents have great love for their children yet need growth in some areas of their life in order to be better parents – our task is to assist them in being successful if at all possible. Our instructor embraced this couple with encouragement and love providing them with a nurturing learning environment; something they were not used to after hearing the message from so many others that they were “bad” parents.
The couple was motivated to complete the requirements of the court and began coming consistently to each class participating actively to learn new skills. Justin stated that since taking the parenting classes he was more aware of how to use positive discipline strategies with the children rather than using anger. He recognized that he was using intimidation and bullying to get his children to comply. He shared that he found that by simply telling his kids what “to do” rather than what “not to do” was making a dramatic difference in the children’s responses. As a result of successful participation in the class the couple’s visitation with their children was increased and they were eventually granted overnight visits as they continued to make progress.
Justin and Tina staying the course and surprised the class by bringing their children to the final parenting class having reunified with the children effective that very afternoon. Catholic Charities played a part in this couple’s success being a family strengthened and united.
Talking to the Puppets
Catholic Charities utilizes a unique and effective way to get kids to share their experiences—puppets.
The agency has an abundance of culturally and ethnically diverse puppets that are used by trained facilitators to help over 500 children each year throughout Butler County. The puppets model critical social skills that will help the children be more successful in life.
The puppets are an essential part of The Incredible Years Dina Dinosaur school success curriculum, which teaches children friendship skills, appropriate conflict management strategies, successful classroom behaviors, and empathy skills. Children particularly connect with the child-size boy, Wally, and his sister, Molly, who are used to model appropriate behavior and often ask the children for help with common problem situations they encounter. Children also respond to the dinosaur puppet, Dina, who is the director of Dinosaur School that teaches school rules and rewards and praises children for doing well.
Young children are enthralled with the puppets and often will talk about sensitive or painful issues with Wally or Dina the Dinosaur more easily than with adults.
These puppets do wonders in helping these children acquire important social skills that are the foundation for long-term success in school and life.