LOUISVILLE Susan, a parent struggling with a son on a downward spiral with alcohol, called the Peace Promises program, “An answer to prayer. The best thing that could have happened to us.”
Peace Promises, offered through Our Lady of Peace, part of KentuckyOne Health, is an after-school, intensive outpatient program for high school students dealing with alcohol and drug use that travels to the teenager’s home county. The curriculum emphasizes the development of decision-making skills, finding healthy alternatives, and forming a solid support community. This innovative program currently serves residents of Jefferson, Bullitt, and Oldham counties.
Directed by Janine Dewey, MA, LCADC, Peace Promises was funded by a Kentucky Kids Recovery Grant issued by the Division of Behavioral Health. The grant helped Dewey establish five school sites to host the program and purchase five vans, which pick the participants up from their high school, drive them to their sessions, and take them home afterward. Peace Promises is highly committed to providing transportation because, in the words of Dewey, “One of the biggest barriers in getting kids to treatment is getting kids to treatment.”
The students meet three times a week for a three-hour group session led by a program counselor who is either a clinical social worker or certified alcohol and drug counselor. In lieu of the traditional, adult-minded 12-step recovery model, Peace Promises utilizes The Seven Challenges®. Dewey explains, “The Seven Challenges is geared to meet kids where they are in their current decision-making mode.” Therefore, each session starts with the counselor asking those taking part whether their goal for that day is to stop, cut down, or continue with their substance use. Knowing the prevailing dynamic of the group allows the counselor to adjust the focus, change the lesson plan, and address the most pressing issues. According to Dewey, “This program gives kids the opportunity to make a choice for the day, learn tools to get through that day, and come back for the next one.”
Another crucial component in the process is guided journaling. During each session, the attendees are asked to answer questions around a specific challenge. At the day’s conclusion, the counselor collects the journals. Later, in private, he or she reads the entries and makes individualized comments meant only for the eyes of the author. The journals are returned during the next meeting. Since this dialogue is shared exclusively between the teen and counselor, it creates a one-on-one bond. “The journals help so much to get to know our kids during a short time frame and build an amazing amount of trust,” says Dewey.
Children can be referred to this intensive outpatient program by parents, court designated workers, the juvenile justice system, teachers, school administrators, or their family physician. Dewey’s advice to medical practitioners assessing adolescents is to always perform a quick screen where you specifically ask about alcohol and drug use. She states, “Even though kids may get defensive at first, the more we get in the habit of asking what they’re doing, the more information we’re going to get.” However, she advises there are red flags that can also help in determining whether a teen may be abusing drugs or alcohol, including noticeable changes in sleeping or eating and extreme weight gain or weight loss. She also warns, “Heroin is happening to our kids. So, look for needle marks, and not just in the obvious places.”
So far, the Peace Promises program has helped 250 families. And, it continues to grow. Our Lady of Peace also offers two additional alternatives that function in conjunction with Peace Promises, including Crossroads, a partial hospitalization program and an 11-bed rehabilitation program. Recently, after being approached by the Jefferson County school system, they also decided to launch an intensive outpatient program for middle schoolers, since the onset of first-use is now 11–12 years of age. “If we can focus on the sixth and seventh graders, we’ll be doing some good work,” says Dewey.
Dewey concludes with, “I really want parents to know there is help out there and how to find it. Reaching out is the first step, and it’s also the hardest step. But once they do, we’ll be there to guide them through the process.”