TOPEKA, KAN. – Parents using drugs or alcohol is the primary reason for children being removed from a home and placed in foster care in the state of Kansas. United Way of Greater Topeka and the Kansas Children’s Service League have been awarded a $139,090 grant to continue their collaboration on Shawnee County’s Drug Endangered Child Program. The grant from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet & Trust Fund enables the organizations to continue the work they have been doing since 2005.
Estimates indicate that more than 62,000 Kansas children live in homes where alcohol or other drugs are abused and that more than 4,500 Kansas infants are born prenatally exposed to substance every year. When parents have substance abuse issues, their children are at higher risk of experiencing abuse and/or neglect.
DEC operates as a point of early identification and referral for Drug Endangered Child Case Management services. The services are designed for pregnant women and families with children age 0-5 who currently or have recently used substances from alcohol to drugs.
Sara Hortenstine is United Way’s Drug Endangered Child project coordinator. Working within the Successful Connections program, she makes home visits and assesses families and their need for help. The DEC program is essential as it is the only program in Shawnee County serving the 0-5 age group.
“I meet with families who want help with their substance abuse issues, but are afraid to ask for help, or don’t know where to go. They want to be great parents but they have stressors in their lives, including substance use, that prevent them from being the parent that they want to be.”
Successful Connections, said Hortenstine, works hard to help pregnant women and families with small children get connected to free resources and programs in the community that can help them succeed as parents. It serves as a preventative step to help keep children in their own homes with their biological parents, rather than being removed and placed in foster care.
Once a parent or family is referred to DEC, Kansas Children’s Services League provides ongoing support to ensure that parents of children receive the support they need while learning about the connection between their substance use and the adverse impact it can have on their child for years to come.
“The goal of DEC Case Management is to help keep children with their parents in a safe and nurturing drug-free environment,” said Jennifer Gassmann, LBSW, DEC Case Manager with Kansas Children’s Services League. ”Many families have had negative experiences with the system and are distrustful of services at first, but they truly want what is best for their children. We help them advocate for themselves and build on their strengths so their children can be successful in their lives.”
Gassmann noted that it is often difficult for parents to put together a stable life while trying not to relapse. So, KCSL provides intensive and individualized services in areas such as substance abuse, parenting education, mental health services, housing and education. KCSL serves 60 families annually through DEC. The new grant enables KCSL to hire an additional case worker to work with families.