Self-Care & Recovery During the Holiday Season

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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/.