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.
Oklahoma's rural nature will present researchers with a challenge, Brook said. But KU researchers recently implemented a similar program for families in Kansas, which also has vast rural areas, and were able to reduce the average foster child's term in foster care by 190 days. Researchers hope to take some of the lessons they learned in Kansas and apply them to Oklahoma, she said.
One of the new portions of the program is a type of therapy that is geared toward parents whose children have been placed in foster care due to the parents' substance abuse.
Known as solution-focused brief therapy, the method helps the parents focus on progress they've made, rather than things they're doing wrong, said Johnny Kim, a KU professor of social welfare.
The method of therapy has become popular recently, Kim said, but more research is needed to see how effective it is in different settings and with different clients. The program is a good opportunity to evaluate the method's effectiveness while potentially helping families around the state, he said.
The therapy works under the assumption that, no matter how bad the parent's problems have become, there's a time when they're able to manage their substance abuse or addiction, Kim said.
By teaching the client to focus on those times rather than the times when they fall short, researchers hope to make the clients more receptive to behavior changes.
The method tends to include about five to eight therapy sessions, Kim said, depending on how complex the problem is and how committed the client is.
Rather than trying to uncover the underlying cause of the problem, which could take months, researchers focus on how to solve it.
“We're sort of jumping straight to the solutions and trying to build on that,” Kim said.