The pandemic is compounding the regular stresses of the holiday season, and it's an especially challenging time for Ohioans living with substance use disorder.
The Ohio START Program connects people who have experienced substance use disorder, recovery and the children services system with families who are currently struggling with similar issues.
Ashley Durst, an Ohio START caseworker in Trumbull County, said a support system is crucial for sobriety, so clients are advised not to isolate themselves. But they could be exposed to drinking or drug use at family gatherings.
"A lot of the cycle of addiction goes from generation to generation, and that's not the best place for them," Durst observed. "But they're also told not to isolate. So it's kind of a Catch-22."
Sarah Hayden, a family peer mentor for Warren County Children Services, said COVID is limiting in-person supports for her clients.
"For holidays, if they don't have their kids with them or they've lost loved ones or if they're just now getting to the point to where they are wanting to try to get sober, all those dynamics take a big toll on their recovery," Hayden said.
Hayden added she's trying to provide extra support to clients, with phone calls and more frequent check-ins. The program also connects clients to more intensive services, including treatment programs that can support their success.
Crystal Jameson, a family peer mentor for Trumbull County Children Services, believes Ohio START is successful because it takes an intensive, team approach and is nonjudgmental.
"It's not easy to face substance abuse," Jameson said. "You need to have structure and that support. That's the best thing that this program offers. It's just an amazing opportunity to watch that light click on with our clients and see the changes that they make in their life."
Ohio START is currently in more than three dozen counties and is taking applications for 14 more in 2021. The program served 225 new families this year, including nearly 600 adults and more than 300 kids.
Last week, the program was approved for inclusion in a federally funded clearinghouse that identifies and shares information about evidence-based practices in foster care.