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Supporting children of parents with co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse

Hopping-Winn, A. – 2012

This research to practice brief discusses the importance of addressing the needs of children of parents (particularly mothers) with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Discusses the risk factors for children growing up with parents who have co-occurring disorders. These include: exposure to violence and trauma, poverty, neglect, and housing and custodial instability. Problems faced by this population of children include mental health/substance abuse disorders, developmental delays, stigma and isolation, and parentification. Describes effective prevention and intervention services for children and families affected by co-occurring disorders, beginning with pregnancy and continuing throughout childhood. Services include: universal screening for prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, maternal postpartum monitoring, strengthening the mother-child attachment, family-friendly residential treatment programs, education on substance use disorders for children, development of support systems and groups for children, development of a safety plan, encouraging family togetherness, and referral to family therapy. Lists several trauma-informed support strategies for mothers. Emphasizes the importance of supportive interventions and agency practices.