Families in Hempstead and Howard counties have a new opportunity to get help for their younger family members. AFMC, with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), is recruiting and leading a consortium of organizations that are serving people in the southwest region of Arkansas. Called the “Substance Abuse Resource Assistance Coalition” (SARAC), the coalition will coordinate services for young victims of opioid and substance misuse crime, and help families find resources and services.

Hempstead and Howard counties were chosen for the DOJ grant because, despite the federal government’s significant investments in Arkansas to combat substance abuse, these counties have not benefited through direct initiatives.

Residents of Hempstead and Howard counties live in a medically underserved area. Coupled with a scarcity of medical and social services, they also face a higher than average opioid prescription-drug rate and high levels of illicit drug misuse. The stigma about mental health treatment makes opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment and recovery particularly challenging.

Children and youth who are neglected by addicted parents or victimized in their communities are the most vulnerable population impacted by the opioid crisis. Children are caught in the middle without the health care and social service resources they need to build resilience against these upheavals.

These children can accumulate adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) at a high rate. ACEs can include abuse, neglect or household dysfunction that lead to an increased risk of physical and mental chronic disease, early death, and alcohol or drug misuse later in life. More than 15% of adults in Hempstead and Howard counties have experienced four or more ACEs.

Families can encounter the child welfare system while they are coping with their own or a family member’s substance use disorder (SUD). Because SUD treatment services do not coordinate with child welfare services, it can create complex problems for families seeking behavioral health, substance abuse and family violence services.

“Dealing with the threat of going to foster care plus trying to cope with family incarceration, overdoses, drug violence and other traumatic events are things no child should have to face alone. They need help and SARAC is poised to deliver it,” Ray Hanley, president and CEO of AFMC, said.

The SARAC coalition will provide families in crisis with comprehensive family-centered treatment services for both the child welfare and substance abuse treatment systems. AFMC will manage the SARAC call center that will respond to referrals initiated by community partners such as health care providers, law enforcement agencies, courts and schools. The call center can be reached at 866-253-1164 and is scheduled to be open July 1, 2020.

When children are identified by a care-delivery partner, the partner will submit a referral to the SARAC call center. SARAC staff will conduct an assessment to identify family needs and local resources. An individualized service coordination plan will be developed to ensure continued access to needed services to maximize healing, recovery, and resilience for these children and their families. Call center staff will assist families of youth ages 0 to 18 years by identifying and coordinating resources, finding medical providers, getting employment help, and applying for health insurance, nutrition programs and utilities assistance.

On a parallel path, AFMC will raise community awareness about ACEs and building resilience, specifically among medical and behavioral health providers. AFMC-certified trainers will work with SARAC’s frontline partners to provide trauma-informed care training and screening tools. A trauma-informed approach provides a framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to trauma’s effect and building a sense of control and empowerment. SARAC will also offer comprehensive assistance to parents to address behaviors that predispose them to child maltreatment. While individual resilience is important, a community-wide focus on resilience and trauma-informed care will lead to healing.