Grantee Spotlight:

All communities deserve access to recovery services - Teen & Family Services begins new program in Sunnyside 

During the 2015/2016 presidential race, those paying attention are hearing increased concern among the candidates to do something about substance abuse in the United States.  The motivations are somewhat obvious.  The number of overdose deaths in the US is steadily increasing, most of it attributable to increased opioid use.  Recently, drug overdose replaced motor vehicle accidents as the number one cause of injury death among people 25 to 64 years old in the US.  Alabama, Maine, and Massachusetts have seen a 20% increase in the rate of drug overdose death between 2013 and 2015.  New Hampshire has seen a 73% increase in that period! 

Additionally, attention is finally being drawn to our country's disproportionately large incarcerated population.  Substance, and the country's response to it, drives the fact that the US has the largest per capita incarceration rate in the world.  In 2013, 1.5 million drug arrests we made in the United States.  Since 1980, the drug related incarcerated population in the United States has grown to be 10 times larger. Though perhaps for different reasons, voices on  both the political right (concerned about the huge expense and implicit racism) and the political left (concerned about justice and explicit racism) are calling for criminal justice reform related to substance abuse. 

There is an important racial and class element to substance policy and treatment in the United States.  The nation's massive incarceration rates disproportionately affect people of color.  While African Americans account for 13% of the US population, they account for 40 % of the nation's drug-related incarcerated population.  Latinos represent 17 % of the nation's population, and account for 37% of the nation's drug-related incarcerated population.  In treatment, the opposite is stunningly true.  60% of admissions to publicly funded substance treatment programs are white; 21% are African American, and 14% are Latino.  Substance use and the justice policies surrounding it, perhaps like no other social issue, reflect deep inequalities in our society.

It is with this background in mind, as well knowing that 9 in 10 adults with substance uses disorders began using in their adolescence, that the Rockwell Fund, Inc., put a call out to potential grantees in 2014, asking for substance and behavioral health programs that reach youth of color. We were impressed with the applications we received; each featured thoughtful and innovative approaches to the problem. 

Teen and Family Services, a new grantee for RFI, pitched an interesting project at Pro-Vision Academy, a charter school that RFI has been contributing to for close to 10 years.  Pro-Vision is located in Houston's Sunnyside neighborhood.  The school serves a majority of low-income African American and Latino youth and families.  Teen and Family Services is an organization that meets the needs of teenagers and families living with adolescent substance abuse. Teen and Family utilizes a positive peer group model that includes the Twelve Steps. 87% of the youth that have completed the organization's model have maintained long term recovery.  Due to the high cost of recovery, Teen and Family Services historically has served a majority of white, middle to upper income families.  However, when resources were made available by Rockwell Fund, Inc., Teen and Family Services rose to the challenge, sought out partners and qualified staff with strong roots and connections to the Sunnyside community, and designed a program intended to educate and support families dealing with substance abuse in that community.

The Teen and Family Services approach in Sunnyside includes an education and prevention component, whereby the 273 middle and high school students attending Pro-Vision will receive outreach and education efforts.  Through that engagement, Teen and Family Services will identify youth who are misusing substances and offer them and their families more in-depth services and support.  Ultimately, Teen and Family seeks to build and support an adolescent recovery community in the area.  This process will take time, ongoing engagement, and trust building.

Rockwell is proud to support this effort and hope it will inspire and inform other behavioral health providers to reach out to more underserved communities.