New peer program in Clackamas County tackles youth addictions
"For some time, we've been searching for alternative wrap-around services for youth and families we currently serve through other programs," said Rose Fuller, executive director of Milwaukie-based Northwest Family Services. Recovering youth have been asking for options, and the recently launched SMART program is the right answer, Fuller noted.
SMART is an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training, a 25-year-old method of moving from addictive substances and negative behaviors to positive self-regard and willingness to change, she said.
"In addition to being focused on adolescents, the SMART program differs (from the traditional 12-step program) by acknowledging that people are on their own journeys when it comes to recovery; the main focus is giving participants tools they can utilize on their path to change their addictive behaviors," Fuller said.
For example, participants design and implement their own recovery plan to create a more balanced, purposeful, fulfilling and meaningful life. Peer-support groups are another facet of the recovery plan, along with goal setting and urge logs, she noted.
SMART recovery mutual support chapter meetings initially will be offered as weekly online support meetings to youth in Clackamas County and East Multnomah County. Northwest Family Services professionals will facilitate evening meetings.
"We hope to transition into in-person in June, though we are monitoring COVID transmission rates," Fuller said.
"We acknowledge the importance of having this group be in-person and are excited to do so, when we can safely meet. There has been an interest in going hybrid as this allows greater accessibility for the youth," she added.
Engaging and educating youth in areas on drug use and abuse, violence participation, school attendance and performance, and effects of parental incarceration is one of the central columns of Northwest Family Services' mission. Currently, the organization offers drug and alcohol prevention programs in 22 middle and senior high schools in the area.
In the SMART topic-based meetings, participants help one another resolve problems ranging from substance addictions to behaviors such as gambling or over-eating. A message board allows for further dialog and peer support.
Participants are able to learn positive tips from their peers who attend the group meetings, but Fuller noted that NWFS offers multiple options when it comes to youths' personal paths.
"If they find that SMART is not for them, we have resources like our transitions program or resources for basic needs, that provide convenient, confidential and respectful school-based treatment and prevention services to adolescents and their families," Fuller said.
"We are also always happy to connect youth to other resources that they need in the community," she added.
Youth support network
Family can be an important aspect of a person's recovery journey, Fuller said, noting that the SMART program is just one part of a youth's support network. Friends and family meetings are available for anyone interested, but, in some circumstances "that family actually contributes to the addictive response of the adolescent and does not support the recovery process," she noted.
"Adolescents, as opposed to adults, often don't have the same motivation or incentives as adults to participate in treatment and recovery. Some of it has to do with brain development and lack of resources to get out of traumatic situations," Fuller said.
She added, "However, this is the best time to catch someone who is not as entrenched in addictive behavior."
SMART program through Northwest Family Services
Cost: Free for participants who can self-refer. They can also be referred by a social services program, a school or another organization that serves youth.
One youth's journey to recovery
The SMART program began in late April, so no youth in that program are available to discuss their personal recovery plan. But Rose Fuller, executive director of Northwest Family Services, provided the following response from a youth who was involved with other programs through NWFS. Because of confidentiality concerns, no name will be used.
"When I was in the seventh grade, I started to realize I was struggling with my mental health. I was around a lot of trauma on a daily basis. This is about the time I met my first counselor at NWFS.
I had got caught drinking while at school. There was something inside of me that could see how messed up of an environment that I was in, but I couldn't do anything to change it. In the depths of the shadowy blanket, I had to gain the strength to turn my blanket into a lasso and pull myself out of the hole.
I am now a better version of myself. I learned that I have to be able to trust that people want to help me. I can't always do it on my own and need to be able to reach out for help when I need it.
Working with NWFS taught me that there are people that care and are willing to help. There is no judgement, just interest in helping me be the best person I can be.
Sometimes when you are at your weakest moment you need someone else to help you pull yourself up. Earlier this year when I relapsed, I knew it was time to ask for help again. I will always ask for help when I need it."
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