Officials with the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services say a new partnership between the department and the University of Kansas will allow the state to serve certain families more effectively.
Researchers from KU are joining with the department to find quicker ways to reunite parents with children who have been removed from the home.
The program is a continuation of work begun in Oklahoma by KU researchers to implement a screening tool that identifies parents who are at risk of substance abuse disorders. The new program will be funded through a five-year, $3.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
During the early years of the program, researchers launched a pilot initiative in Oklahoma County, said Elicia Berryhill, a senior prevention program manager with the department. The new grant will allow the department and KU researchers to expand the program statewide.
The screening tool has allowed state workers to do a better job of referring families to the services they need, Berryhill said, meaning the process of getting help is easier for those families to navigate.
Drug and alcohol use is a factor in about 60 percent of cases in which children are placed into foster care, said KU child welfare professor Jody Brook. Because of that level of prevalence, addressing substance abuse issues in parents could be an effective way of reducing the number of children in the foster care system.
Under the new grant, researchers hope to continue implementing the substance abuse screening tool and help state case workers have better tools to help families whose children have been removed from the home because of to substance abuse.
Like most places, Brook said, Oklahoma has unique strengths and challenges that will present themselves when researchers begin to implement the program.
One of those strengths is a strong commitment among several state agencies to provide care for the families in the program. Oklahoma has led the nation in developing techniques to support substance abuse treatment and coordination of care, she said.