Nationally the opioid crisis is having a major impact on child welfare. In an April 2018 study, Stopping the Opioid Crisis Begins at Home, by the Council for a Strong America, researchers found that there is a connection between opioid use and child abuse and neglect. In 2016, for 34 percent of children involved in the child welfare system nationwide, parental substance abuse was listed as the leading factor for removing children from the home.

Illinois is no exception. Last year Winnebago County reported the highest percentage of opioid related deaths in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Health. In Rockford—one of the hardest hit communities—the number of families with indicated abuse and neglect referred to Children’s Home & Aid has more than doubled since 2015.

In response to the growing drug crisis, Children’s Home & Aid is part of an innovative pilot in Rockford through a 5-year federal grant awarded to the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY). Children’s Home & Aid was chosen to be part of the pilot as the agency is the largest provider of child welfare services in the Rockford area to families where the Department of Child and Family Services has found that abuse or neglect took place. The Intact Family Recovery Program is the first of its kind to use a control group to evaluate the impact of pairing child welfare services with substance abuse professionals to assist families who are struggling with addiction. Since the Intact Family Recovery program began April 1, 2018, substance abuse-related cases referred to Children’s Home & Aid for child welfare services have accounted for one third of all cases in the Boone and Winnebago County pilot areas.

“In recent years we’ve seen a sharp increase in substance abuse with families we serve through the Intact program. Previously we could make referrals to outside substance abuse programs, but at times the waitlist was too great or we couldn’t find the right program. With the new Intact Family Recovery program, we can connect families with substance abuse professionals onsite from the get-go,” says Arlene Happach, Children’s Home & Aid Chief Operating Officer.

Families in the Intact Family Recovery program receive services for 18 months allowing families time to address issues, recover from substance abuse and increase the chance for long-term success. Children’s Home & Aid directly partners with a substance abuse treatment provider, TASC, Inc. to house two recovery coordinators on-site at the agency’s office in Rockford. Once a case has been identified as having substance abuse involvement, a recovery coordinator begins working in conjunction with the caseworker. With expertise in substance abuse addiction, recovery coordinators work with families to help parents find a treatment center, communicate with substance abuse counselors and provide post-treatment follow-up services.

The Intact Family Recovery initiative is modeled after an existing Illinois program and will now be evaluated with a randomized control trial as part of the federal grant. The goal of the pilot is to gain an understanding of how providing families with substance abuse issues access to multiple systems of treatment and care can improve outcomes for children and families.

To learn more about the impact of substance abuse in northern Illinois, watch a recent interview on WREX in Rockford with Heather France, our Program Manager – Intact, Licensing, and Specialized Foster Care in the Northern Region: “Children’s Home & Aid launches a new program to fight substance abuse.