START Teams Help Struggling Families Stay Together

hispanic_familyFor families at risk of child abuse and neglect, family preservation services work with caregivers to alleviate issues in a home and promote a safe home environment for the child. Children do best when they are in families, and we know that whenever possible, children should remain at home with their parents and when needed, receive services to preserve the family.

In Kentucky, a large percentage of child victims of abuse and neglect have risk factors like substance abuse issues present in the home. According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, heroin usage has increased to epidemic levels, and the number of babies born drug dependent continues to rise.

In Kentucky, an innovative family preservation program that includes substance abuse treatment is helping families create a safe home environment for their children while remaining together.

The Kentucky Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team (START) program is an intensive intervention that integrates addiction services, family preservation, and community partnerships. The program aims to reduce child abuse and neglect, improve treatment rates for substance abuse disorders, build parenting skills and resilience, and increase the community’s capacity to address when substance abuse and child maltreatment takes place within the same environment. It was adapted in 2006 from the START model developed in Cleveland, Ohio.

START teams are made up of specially trained child protective service social workers, the family members, and a family mentor who has at least 3 years of sobriety and was previously involved with the Division of Protection and Permanency. There is at least one contact per week between the family and the team to ensure the safety of the child and a high level of support for the parents.

The benefits of the START teams to children and parents has been evaluated and documented. For families who participate in the program there are twice the rates of sobriety compared to a typical program, and less than half the rates of children placed in out of home care. The program not only helps to keep families together, but also saves the state money. A cost analysis of the START program found that for every $1 spent on START, the state avoids $2.52 in the cost of foster care.

The use of family preservation programs in the child welfare system is one piece of the whole range of care options based on need, also referred to as the continuum of care, and includes kinship care, foster care, and residential treatment. The innovative use of programs like START is evidence that Kentucky has the tools to keep kids with their families, when appropriate, and minimize the use of more restrictive care until it is necessary.

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