The Impact on Children of Caregiver Substance Use: Recommendations for Policy & Practice

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Nationally, the opioid epidemic has been declared a public health emergency and communities and families across Colorado are feeling the effects of this crisis, as well as the effects of other substances being used and misused across our state. As attention and resources are devoted to responding to this epidemic, it is critical that the impact on children remains high priority. There is no single solution to reducing the impact on children of caregiver substance use, and when we view this as not only a public health issue but also a multigenerational one, we know our strategies need to be as multifaceted as the issue.

In the fall of 2017, Illuminate Colorado, with the support of the ZOMA Foundation, began a project focused on this very issue of preventing child maltreatment and improving outcomes for children affected by caregiver substance use. Illuminate engaged statewide leaders in the development of recommendations and strategies for policy and practice.

The recommendations are intended to serve as a research-based framework for substantial, actionable change to better meet the needs of children impacted by caregiver substance use. They provide a starting point for multi-sector partners as they develop goals, objectives, and activities to prevent harm and improve outcomes for children.

To read the recommendations overview and the full report, visit illuminatecolorado.org/iccsu. Implementation planning for the recommendations is now underway to learn more or get involved, email info@illuminatecolorado.org.

CAP Month Partner Highlight: #Pinwheels4Prevention Photo Contest Winners

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Illuminate Colorado will be highlighting some of our statewide child abuse prevention partners in a new blog series. Follow along and learn about the different ways that individuals and organizations engage in CAP Month around the state!

Our final CAP Month Partner Highlight will share the winners of the #Pinwheels4Prevention Photo Contest, held in partnership with #CO4Kids, the Kempe Foundation, & the Get Grounded Foundation. Thank you to everyone that participated and congratulations to our winners!


1st Place - Foster Source - $1,000 Grant

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Foster Source serves foster parents and foster children all over Colorado. We love helping foster parents help foster children heal.


2nd Place - Foster Together Colorado - $500 Grant

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Foster Together Colorado is changing the way the average person thinks about foster care through storytelling and neighbor-to-neighbor support.


3rd Place - Mount Saint Vincent Home - $250 Grant

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The staff at Mount Saint Vincent helps raise awareness of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Every child deserves a safe and loving home.

CAP Month Partner Highlight: Colorado's Child Welfare Training System

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Illuminate Colorado will be highlighting some of our statewide child abuse prevention partners in a new blog series. Follow along and learn about the different ways that individuals and organizations engage in CAP Month around the state!

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The Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, on behalf of Colorado’s Child Welfare Training System (CWTS), began participating in Child Abuse Prevention Month in 2014.

Since then, each of CWTS’ four regional training centers (RTCs) located in Denver, Fort Collins, Canon City, and Rifle, promote CAP Month by what they enthusiastically call “painting the RTCs blue!”

Each regional training center plants a pinwheel garden in their lawn, and staff make marketing materials openly available at each training center for visitors to easily access information about child abuse prevention. Additionally, community members from each region (including county child welfare staff, law enforcement, fire departments, child advocacy centers, and local government) come together in blue to form a living CAP Month image each year. It really is a tribute to collaborative community partnerships!

Teammates and regional learning coordinators Colleen Gibley-Reed and Holly Laydon stated: “We turn up the fun volume by adding a flare of competition, as we watch to see which RTC has the largest turn out each year for their CAP photo. Standing in unity, side by side brings to life our collective efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect in our respective communities.” 

Last year, the southeast regional training center’s event was such a big hit, it was featured in the local news! 


From the words of Dr. C. Henry Kempe, “Our children’s future and the world’s future are one.”

CAP Month Partner Highlight: Broomfield Early Childhood Council

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Illuminate Colorado will be highlighting some of our statewide child abuse prevention partners in a new blog series. Follow along and learn about the different ways that individuals and organizations engage in CAP Month around the state!

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Broomfield Early Childhood Council (BECC) has been participating with Child Abuse Prevention Month since April of 2011. It started with a single pinwheel garden in the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library, today it stretches across the community!

BECC provides pinwheels to all licensed child care centers, as well as all partner agencies, including doctor offices, mental health providers, health and human services departments, police departments, local food bank, and nonprofit service providers.

"These activities connect us to our community to reinforce our common mission: support families through difficult times and to keep children safe. Often, the day to day operations get overwhelming and these activities help us to reconnect and remember the importance of the message – providing support and resources to families that will lift them up and prevent child maltreatment" said Jessica Jones, Director of the Broomfield Early Childhood Council.

Prevention is the key to solving so many problems, this month helps us get this message out that we can stop child abuse and maltreatment before it starts! Family support, for all families, gets lost because we are trying to catch up to problems already manifested. Supporting the family with the Five Protective Factors will address key needs that families don’t even realize they need.

The symbol of the pinwheel is a brilliant reminder for the community to remember the family structure, and remember that we need an entire community to support healthy, thriving children!

CAP Month Partner Highlight: Alliance for Kids

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Illuminate Colorado will be highlighting some of our statewide child abuse prevention partners in a new blog series. Follow along and learn about the different ways that individuals and organizations engage in CAP Month around the state!

Unlike the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign partners highlighted in previous posts, Alliance for Kids is a newcomer to the campaign! Alliance for Kids is one of 34 early childhood councils in Colorado, and oversees a wide variety of programs, participates in community partnerships, and provides professional training and coaching designed to improve the quality of early education and child care in El Paso County.

To kick off their promotion of Child Abuse Prevention Month, they shared the Pinwheels for Prevention information with their entire staff and invited them to wear blue at their April staff meeting. Following the staff meeting, they took pictures of all staff with pinwheels and planted pinwheels and yard signs in front of their offices. To engage their community, pinwheels and table tents were offered FREE to their Alliance for Kids Early Childhood Council members and to early care and education sites in El Paso County. They offered them to individuals attending their April Council meeting, and gave lapel pins as prizes for attending.

In addition, they provided pinwheels at their standing committee meetings and to training participants attending an Expanding Quality in Infant Toddler Care session. As a result, they had 21 requests for pinwheels that included both early care and education centers, and family child care homes! Among the organizations that received pinwheels were The Resource Exchange and AspenPointe. Alliance for Kids only has about 10 pinwheels remaining on display in its front office—the rest of the 500 were distributed! They also made sure to distribute the CAP Month Talking Points with all who received pinwheels.

“Our participation has been valuable because it’s allowing us to broaden our role as an Early Childhood Council,” said Angela McKibben, Communications Specialist with Alliance for Kids.

The immediate impact of their participation in the campaign has been to further conversations around the importance of supporting children and families in their community. They will be following up with those that received pinwheels to learn how they engaged with their families and used the information on the five Protective Factors. During the rest of the month, they will be using the CAP Month messaging to post more information and positive messages on Facebook about building strong families and understanding the Protective Factors.

CAP Month Partner Highlight: Kappa Delta at Colorado State University

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Illuminate Colorado will be highlighting some of our statewide child abuse prevention partners in a new blog series. Follow along and learn about the different ways that individuals and organizations engage in CAP Month around the state!

 Illuminate Colorado staff & Kappa Delta members at the ShamRock 'n Roll - April 2017.

Illuminate Colorado staff & Kappa Delta members at the ShamRock 'n Roll - April 2017.

Illuminate Colorado has been partnering with the Kappa Delta at Colorado State University (CSU) sorority since our strategic partnership was fully formed in 2016. The national Kappa Delta organization has over 250,000 members worldwide, and values community service, leadership, and responsible citizenship. Their official philanthropies are Girl Scouts of the USA and Prevent Child Abuse America, and the Kappa Delta women at CSU work to support impactful organizations by volunteering to raise funds and engaging with the Girl Scouts of Colorado.

As the Colorado chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America, Illuminate has the opportunity to partner with Kappa Delta at CSU to support children and families across our state. Every year, the Kappa Deltas at CSU plan two annual fundraising events: ShamRock ‘n Roll in the spring and Fall for KayDee in the fall. These events are designed to include their fellow Greek organizations on campus, as well as the university in general, in their philanthropic work. They raise funds by selling tickets and organizing raffles and other activities, and engage their fellow students by integrating an educational or interactive component to their events. For example, at their ShamRock ‘n Roll event in March 2018, they provided attendees with the opportunity to sign a pledge to end child abuse and neglect!

 Kappa Delta members & event guests pledge to end child maltreatment - March 2018.

Kappa Delta members & event guests pledge to end child maltreatment - March 2018.

Additionally, Illuminate Colorado recently held an educational workshop with the Kappa Deltas called ‘Brains, Balloons, & Kindness’. This workshop is a fun, interactive way to illustrate the impact that child maltreatment prevention efforts can have on children and families, and how that impact connects to larger public health issues. Illuminate is looking to hold more of these collaborative educational events at CSU in the future to support the Kappa Deltas in their philanthropy and outreach efforts.

 Illuminate Colorado staff & Kappa Delta members at the Brains, Balloons & Kindness workshop - November 2017

Illuminate Colorado staff & Kappa Delta members at the Brains, Balloons & Kindness workshop - November 2017

Illuminate Colorado has also been developing a partnership with the Kappa Delta Alumnae - Denver Chapter to engage post-graduate Kappa Deltas! A member of the alumnae group, Jennifer Bradburn, recently joined Illuminate Colorado’s Board of Directors. In addition, the Kappa Delta Alumni will be hosting a fundraiser for Illuminate Colorado at The Old Mine on Monday, April 9th: https://www.facebook.com/events/191816578270424/

We are continually inspired by the energy and dedication of the Kappa Delta women in advocating for children, and their emphasis on community service and giving back. We are grateful that so many future leaders are active in strengthening families in Colorado, and look forward to collaborating for years to come!

CAP Month Partner Highlight: Denver Human Services

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Illuminate Colorado will be highlighting some of our statewide child abuse prevention partners in a new blog series. Follow along and learn about the different ways that individuals and organizations engage in CAP Month around the state!

Denver Human Services (DHS) has been participating in Child Abuse Prevention Month for a whole decade! DHS employees participate in Child Abuse Prevention Month by joining in on pinwheel plants at their three locations, wearing blue each Tuesday during April, and engaging in month-long messaging that serves as a reminder of the roles we all play in strengthening families on a daily basis. 

For 2018, Denver DHS is also working with Denver Public Schools to engage schools in CAP Month-related activities. In particular, Denver DHS is asking schools to organize their own pinwheel plants, include family-strengthening information in school functions, and host or promote attendance for Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings and foster care/adoption informational meetings. DHS will also be participating in the state’s annual CAP Month Kickoff at the state capitol on April 3rd, and will have a large presence and sponsored activities for families at the April 29th Día del Niño event at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

To support other organizations in getting involved, they are also awarding mini-grants to 19 community organizations in Denver County to promote Child Abuse Prevention Month by hosting a community event or activity. By providing mini-grants to local organizations, doing outreach with DPS and community partners, and having a presence at Día del Niño, they are able to directly offer access to resources and support for families.

“Collaborating and partnering with other organizations and agencies helps us deliver services efficiently to individuals and families who need support. We strive to leverage these partnerships to help strengthen families and promote safe, healthy environments for children and adolescents,” said Craig Wells, Marketing and Communications Coordinator. 

CAP Month Partner Highlight: Ralston House

In honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Illuminate Colorado will be highlighting some of our statewide child abuse prevention partners in a new blog series. Follow along and learn about the different ways that individuals and organizations engage in CAP Month around the state!

Ralston House has been participating in Child Abuse Prevention Month and engaging their community in CAP Month activities for 5 years. They focus their efforts on attending city council meetings in their service areas for Child Abuse Prevention Month proclamations and helping each city/municipality kick-off their pinwheel garden campaign, and working with local partners to request that they host pinwheel gardens. They have been featured on Channel 9 for the last several years, and have also been featured in the local press for their large garden plantings!

Every year, they organize a large social media campaign that was originally started by Wheat Ridge Police Department, who first used the hashtag #PassThePinwheel and had their staff, officers, and detectives take selfies with pinwheels.

This is Ralston House’s largest awareness campaign, and through their efforts, they aim to engage volunteers, raise awareness for child abuse prevention, and share with their neighbors what they do at Ralston House.

“We look forward to meeting with City Council and municipalities in our service areas, and to working with businesses, organizations, schools, churches and groups to request that they host pinwheel gardens in recognition of CAP month,” said Tara Roesner, Development Officer at Ralston House.

Check our blog next week for another partner highlight! 

What You Need to Know About Marijuana & Child Safety in 2018

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Marijuana legalization in Colorado has provided an additional layer of complexity to the issue of child safety and substance use. As more state governments consider marijuana legalization, figuring out how to address this intersection is becoming a priority nationwide.

Illuminate Colorado strives to support family wellbeing as it intersects with substances, both illegal and legal. It’s important to stay informed on the marijuana landscape, and how it affects the work of agencies who serve children and families. With ever-changing laws and regulations regarding marijuana legalization, we wanted to provide you with some recent updates to marijuana resources in Colorado.

Remember that laws, regulation, resources, and research in this area are continually being updated, so please conduct your own research on a regular basis with a focus on state-sponsored, objective, and research-based information.

New Educational Resources

Several great resources regarding marijuana and child safety have been created or updated in the past year. Here are just a few for you to be aware of:

Legalized Marijuana: Considerations for Child Safety: In this interactive learning experience, learners will explore to what extent marijuana use or cultivation may affect child safety. This web-based training provide an overview of Colorado’s marijuana laws, an introduction to marijuana and its effects on the body and behavior, and a summary of existing research on the impacts on infants, children, teens, and adults. This WBT is a prerequisite for the Marijuana, Children, and Families classroom course, which explores in more depth the child welfare considerations and best practices related to marijuana. Developed by Illuminate Colorado, open to everyone, and available online at: https://www.coloradocwts.com/.  

Colorado Retail Marijuana Education and Prevention Resource Guide - This guide will help you easily navigate state resources to find the best tool for your retail marijuana education and prevention efforts. It is an overview of education and prevention programs and research, links to fact sheets, talking points, campaign materials, webinars and trainings, activities, and case studies from Colorado organizations. The guide is recommended for community-based organizations, government agencies, youth-serving professionals, coalitions, schools and educators, healthcare professionals, marijuana industry professionals, and communications professionals within those organizations.Developed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and available online at: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/RetailMarijuanaTA

2018 Proposed Legislation

As is the case every year, there are many legislative proposals related to the regulation of medical and retail marijuana in Colorado. Below are three of the many marijuana related bills being considered by the Colorado Legislature:

House Bill 18-1092: Marijuana Delivery Pilot Project - Concerning a pilot program for marijuana delivery. The bill creates a pilot program to allow marijuana delivery. The marijuana state licensing authority can enter into a memorandum of understanding with up to 3 municipalities to allow medical and retail marijuana delivery. The state licensing authority can adopt rules regarding marijuana delivery and can issue up to 15 marijuana delivery licenses.

House Bill 18-1286: School Nurse Give Medical Marijuana At School - Concerning allowing a school nurse to give medical marijuana to a student with a medical marijuana registry card while at school. Under current law, a primary caregiver may possess and administer medical marijuana in a non-smokable form to a student while the student is at school. The bill allows a school nurse or the school nurse's designee, who may or may not be an employee of the school, to also possess and administer medical marijuana to a student at school. The bill provides a school nurse or the school nurse's designee protection from criminal prosecution if he or she possesses and administers medical marijuana to a student at school.

House Bill 18-1263: Medical Marijuana Use For Autism And Acute Pain - Concerning adding certain conditions to the list of disabling medical conditions for medical marijuana use, and, in connection therewith, adding autism spectrum disorders and acute pain. The bill adds autism spectrum disorders and acute pain to the list of disabling medical conditions that authorize a person to use medical marijuana for his or her condition.

ICYMI - 2017 Changes in Colorado Law

In 2017, the Colorado Legislature passed several pieces of legislation related to marijuana. In case you missed it, here are two measures that may impact your work with families.

House Bill 17-1220: Prevent Marijuana to Illegal Market - Concerning measures to stop diversion of legal marijuana to the illegal market. Standardizes the allowable number of marijuana plants allowed per residence statewide. Beginning January 2018, the maximum number of plants allowed to be grown in a residence is 12 for recreational use and 24 for medical use for those participating in the State Registry (but only 12 if not). In short, one person in a residence is allowed up to 6 plants, and 2 or more are allowed up to 12 total plants.

Senate Bill 17-017: Allow Medical Marijuana Use for Stress Disorders - Concerning Adding Stress Disorders to the List of Debilitating Medical Conditions for the Purposes of the Use of Medical Marijuana. Creates a statutory right for a patient with post-traumatic stress disorder to use medical marijuana. It creates the same rights, limitations, affirmative defense, and exceptions from criminal laws for this condition as the constitutional right to use medical marijuana for other debilitating conditions. This legislation also specifies the conditions for the use of medical marijuana by a patient under 18 years of age who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thank you for your concern, consideration, and hard work on behalf of Colorado’s children and families! To learn more about substance use and safety at various stages of life, go to https://smartchoicessafekids.org/

Spotlight Interview with a Parent Leader


February is Parent Leadership Month, a time focused on honoring parents for their leadership roles both at home and in their communities. In our mission to build stronger families, Illuminate Colorado has embraced parent leadership as a key aspect of our Circle of Parents Program by supporting a dedicated Parent Leader as well as a certified facilitator in every group.

In honor of Parent Leadership Month, we sat down with our Circle of Parents “2018 Parent Leader of the Year”, Jon. The Parent Leader of the Year is recognized for their outstanding leadership skills and dedication in their role of supporting group activities and guiding group discussion.

Jon has been part of a Circle of Parents group for almost two years, and said that he wasn’t expecting to be in a leadership role—but he’s glad that’s where he ended up.

  Pictured: Jon, Illuminate Colorado's 2018 Parent Leader of the Year, with his kids.

Pictured: Jon, Illuminate Colorado's 2018 Parent Leader of the Year, with his kids.


“I can’t say that I wanted to take on the role,” said Jon, laughing. “I think [the facilitator] just saw it in me. The fact that she saw it in me and picked me made me not want to let her down. Since then, I relish the role and feel like she was right in choosing me.”

Parent Leadership Month emphasizes being a role model for other parents, participating in community events or groups, and providing a parent “voice” or parent perspective in their community.

Regardless of the form that parent leadership takes, empowering parents through peer support is an effective way to strengthen families. When parents are empowered, they are building resilience, deeply engaging in their roles as parents, and setting a powerful example for kids.

“I think [parent leadership] is important first and foremost for our youth to see strong parent leaders. My daughter’s a little older, and she didn’t get to see that when I was younger due to my addiction, but now that she sees it I hope it translates into lessons for her,” said Jon.

Though unexpected, Jon notes that his leadership role has been especially rewarding in that he gets to help others who are also parenting in recovery, which comes with unique challenges.

“I think it helps the other group members to know that I was the same person sitting in the same chair they’re in, and my experience is the same as theirs,” he explained. “It’s not like I’m a trained professional, this isn’t what I do for a living, and they can take comfort in that. It allows them to open up a little more, to be more willing to share and willing to take advice.”

Another benefit of the group, for Jon, has been the relationships he’s built. “We’ve developed some very good friendships amongst us in the group, and I knew going into the group that when you hang out with people frequently friendships are going to develop, but quite a few of the people in the group I consider top-notch friends. I expected to make acquaintances. I never really expected to make the kinds of bonds that I have.”

In addition to his participation with Circle of Parents, Jon has found an opportunity to take his parent leadership one step further by participating in training with the Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI) of Colorado. The Family Leadership Training Institute is a program that equips families with knowledge and skills to support their engagement with systems at the individual, community, and policy level. Participants complete a 20-week training that integrates personal and child development, leadership skill development, civic literacy, and civic engagement.

When asked what he would say to other parents interested in growing their leadership skills, he noted the importance of surrounding yourself with others who share similar goals.

“If you want to be a strong parent leader, surround yourself with strong parent leaders or people who are seeking to be strong parent leaders, and together you’re going to grow as parent leaders and as leaders in your communities. If you don’t surround yourself with those kinds of people, you are going to limit yourself.”

Though Jon has found participating in parent leadership and education programs to be rewarding, he notes the difficulty of engaging in these programs as a father. “It’s so weird, because as a man, you know, we don’t talk about our stuff—it’s just not what we do,” he explained. “But my experience has been, through this whole process, that it helps.”

On the lack of male participation in Circle of Parents and FLTI, Jon noted, “I’m the only full-time guy in our group. There’s a couple guys who come continuously and consistently, but sporadically nonetheless. And I’m always there. And I find the same thing in FLTI. I’m the only guy who’s there every week, and it’s sad because it helps so much. I wish other guys would be more willing to open up to it.“

To address this gap in parent support for fathers in recovery, Jon hopes to start a Circle of Parents group specifically for fathers. “It’s kind of an ambitious goal I think, because I know how guys are, and I know the talks are going to be a lot of sports and a lot of cars and a lot of girls and a lot of other stuff, but I think just having that camaraderie might help it turn into what it should be. That’s what I’m hoping.“

When asked about advice he would offer to other fathers, Jon said, “My advice to other fathers would be: just give it a shot. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. It might be for you, it might not, but if you don’t at least try you won’t know. I’m really glad I did, because I’ve made some great friends, I’ve taken some solid advice from people, and I’m here today.”

Self-Care & Recovery During the Holiday Season

As the holiday rush stretches across communities, parents across Colorado are faced with increased pressure to give their children a festive holiday experience. Holiday stressors can include increasingly busy schedules, social expectations to buy gifts and holiday decorations, and an increase in time spent with extended families. While parenting during the holidays can be rewarding, this time of year can also be particularly overwhelming for parents in recovery, who must balance all of this while managing triggers and maintaining their progress. Below are a few suggestions to help those in recovery get through the rest of the year:

·      Take care of yourself. First and foremost, parents in recovery should strive to ensure that they’re taking care of their basic needs, including getting enough rest and eating regularly.

·      Limit stressful environments. If a party or other social gathering becomes overly stressful, don’t hesitate to do what’s best for yourself and leave early. Though there’s pressure during the holidays to stay at events until late into the evening, if you feel uncomfortable (especially if that discomfort has to do with substances) you should always do what’s best for yourself. 

·      Maintain your recovery activities. Even though the holidays are busy for many families, make sure that you continue your recovery maintenance. Continue to attend your support group, if you are part of one. Find a friend or family member who’s willing to be there if you need someone to talk to.

·      Ask for help. If you feel like you’re struggling, find a local family resource center or call 1-800-CHILDREN (244-5373) or 1-866-LAS-FAMILIAS (527-3264) for free, confidential help finding drug treatment, parenting support, medical care, social and family service agencies, and many other resources.

If you know someone in recovery, keep in mind that offering support is especially important during this time of year. Whether it’s a family member asking if there’s anything they can do to help, or a facilitated support group, those maintaining recovery need to build resilience and safeguard against the type of holiday stress, emotions, and experiences that can be triggering. It can also be a very lonely time for those in recovery who don’t have supportive social connections, so engaging in the holiday spirit and reaching out to someone in your community can make a big difference in their life--and yours!

To support families in recovery in Colorado, Illuminate is proud to partner with the Recovery Ready Workgroup. This group was established following a town hall calling for communities and professionals to be sure our state supports individuals at all stages of recovery. Illuminate Colorado hosts a variety of parent support groups as part of its work to assure communities are recovery ready. Groups are free to attend, completely confidential, and childcare is available. For information about how you can join or start a support group for parents in your area, please visit https://www.illuminatecolorado.org/circleofparents or contact Anna Neal at aneal@illuminatcolorado.org.

Moving Practice Forward: Addressing Prenatal Substance Exposure

 Participants of the Substance Exposed Newborns Summit engaged in TABLE DISCUSSIOn--November 2nd, 2017

Participants of the Substance Exposed Newborns Summit engaged in TABLE DISCUSSIOn--November 2nd, 2017

To give Colorado newborns the healthiest start possible, we need to address prenatal substance exposure and its effects on children and families. Use of any substance during pregnancy is a complex issue, existing at the intersection of public health, law, behavioral health, and child welfare.

According to the 2015 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System data, 12.0% of pregnant women reported drinking alcohol during the last three months of their pregnancy, and 4.5% reported marijuana or hashish use at some point during pregnancy. Additionally, cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), the diagnosis many babies withdrawing from opioids receive, in Colorado have increased by 83% from 2010 to 2015 based on hospital discharge coding data.

We know prenatal substance exposure is happening in Colorado, but what’s really at stake? Research shows that the impact of prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs on an unborn child can be devastating, including low birth weight, preterm delivery, drug withdrawal, and long-term cognitive, behavioral, and developmental delays. Additionally, we know that babies who are prenatally exposed to substances can have increased medical needs -- which can be particularly stressful for any caregiver. Lastly, there is a connection between substance use, unsafe sleep environments, and infant safety.

Additionally, it can be very difficult for women to find help decreasing their substance use. Substance use disorders are highly stigmatized in the United States, which could discourage those affected from seeking the care that they need. Additionally, soon-to-be-parents may fear that they will lose custody of their child if they admit to struggling with a substance use disorder. Some women may not be aware of the potential dangers of using substances while pregnant at all--especially those with inadequate medical care.

In an effort to address these barriers, Illuminate Colorado coordinates Colorado’s Substance Exposed Newborns (SEN) Steering Committee. The SEN Steering Committee is focused on initiatives to prevent prenatal substance exposure, identify and treat substance use disorders in pregnant women, and support the long term health and well-being of families with prenatally exposed children. Established in 2008 as a subcommittee of the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, the SEN Steering Committee is comprised of substance use and children’s safety experts, medical professionals, and advocates.

Over the last year, the SEN Steering Committee and Illuminate Colorado have supported a SEN Hospital Learning Collaborative, which included 8 hospitals across 5 healthcare systems. This year-long Hospital Learning Collaborative has explored the research and hosted expert presentations and discussions on multiple topics related to substance use and prenatal exposures--including verbal screening, newborn testing practices, treatment referrals, collaboration with child welfare, breastfeeding, and neonatal care. Together, this collaborative developed best practice recommendations, which the SEN Steering Committee used to identify six priority areas for 2018-2020. On November 2, these priority areas were presented at the Substance Exposed Newborns Summit for feedback from an even broader audience of professionals.

Now that the priority areas have been fully developed, approved and finalized, the SEN Steering Committee, the Hospital Learning and Quality Improvement Collaborative, and Illuminate Colorado will move on to implementing these recommendations--with help from people like you!

Moving forward, there are many ways to support this work:

  • Donate. It may go without saying, but your donations to Illuminate Colorado help us to continue the important work of helping children and families. Donate here today!

  • Join our next round of the SEN Learning Collaborative. If you are a medical provider who interacts with pregnant women and/or newborns, consider joining our next round of the SEN Learning and Quality Improvement Collaborative beginning in early 2018. To learn more, contact Jillian Adams, Illuminate Colorado’s SEN Program Manager.

  • Join a SEN work group. Beginning in 2018, there will be six work groups operating under the direction of the SEN Steering Committee. These groups will be the driving force for implementing the recommendations coming from the Summit. If you have expertise and experience to share, contact Jillian Adams, Illuminate Colorado’s SEN Program Manager, about joining a work group.

By developing long-term, cross-discipline solutions together, we can reduce the number of families affected by prenatal substance exposure, provide better support for families and children, and build stronger communities in our state. Join us!

An Adult's Responsibility

Over the past few weeks, multiple incidents of adult misconduct against children have appeared in the media. It is these types of situations that bring attention to an issue that is all too pervasive in our communities. 

As adults, we can work together to prevent harm to children in many different ways: 

§  Create environments that support healthy development in children – normalize conversations with children about empathy, anatomy, development, healthy relationships, and boundary setting.

§  It is our responsibility to recognize situations that feel uncomfortable and articulate our concerns. If something feels off, try to put words to what feels off and why. Oftentimes, we overthink a situation and talk ourselves out of doing something.

§  Respond to boundary violations or other situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Describe the behavior, set a limit, and move on. It is not about confrontations or accusations, but merely letting other adults know that our children are surrounded by caring and aware adults who will step in the gap to protect children and prevent abuse.

§  Remember, if you suspect child abuse or neglect, call 1-844-CO-4KIDS to report your concerns.

§  Check to see if the youth serving organizations in your area – including schools, churches, recreation centers, sports leagues, summer/day camps, child care facilities, etc – have policies to prevent child abuse. Be aware and involved in advocating for safe spaces for children in our communities. If an organization does not have policies in place, they can contact Illuminate for more information.

Children and youth are not in a position, nor should they be, to prevent abuse, and we must be their voice.  When we can put aside our own uneasiness, get support from those around us, and stand up for children and youth, we can make a difference.

Want to better recognize boundary violations and build skills to protect children? Learn more at https://www.illuminatecolorado.org/trainings-technical-assistance/.