New Program Helps Families Cope with Substance Abuse


They never thought it would happen to them.

First, their college-aged daughter started vaping in high school. Now they discovered she had a substance abuse problem. As they searched for a recovery program for their daughter, so many thoughts went through their minds.

How could they navigate the many treatment options and find the best program for their daughter? Would they be able to afford it? Could they have been better parents? Who could they talk to, since they were not comfortable opening up to their friends?

According to Joan Grayson Cohen, Executive Director of Jewish Community Services (JCS), this story, and countless others, play out across homes throughout the Baltimore Jewish community. Although there are a number of resources out there for the substance abuser, there is a large gap when it comes to addressing the issues parents and siblings may be going through.

That’s why Jewish Community Services introduced its new Family Navigator program, designed to assist families who have a loved one dealing with substance abuse issues. A pilot project, funded by the Jill Fox Memorial Fund, it is one of the only programs like it in the country.

“Over the years, we found enough people would come to us to talk about this gap in resources in the community. We started to look into what was out there to help them. We were surprised to find that programs like this did not seem to exist, yet the need was there.”

The Family Navigator is based on a patient navigator model, used to assist patients with follow-up care and resources after leaving the hospital. Naami Resnick, who holds a graduate degree in mental health from Johns Hopkins University was hired as the Jewish Community Services Family Navigator.

Prior to joining the JCS team, Resnick worked in the Anne Arundel County Public School system where she created a pilot intervention referral program for teachers to report concerns about students’ substance abuse. She also has personal connections to the issue – her uncle passed away from addiction.

Addiction can take a toll on a family affecting everything from marriage to mental health, finances to sibling relationships. At the same time, as loved ones are struggling to cope with how their life has been upended, they often feel isolated.

“The stigma of substance abuse may prevent individuals from reaching out to family and friends, so the normal support network may not be there. That’s one of the ways we can help,” says Resnick, who adds that her services are completely confidential and provided at no cost to the family.

The Family Navigator program begins with a free assessment. Resnick will personally talk with individuals to gain an understanding of their needs and concerns. She may direct them to various services – a therapist, a hotline or online information. If the family is struggling to pay for treatment and has financial concerns, she will work with them to find resources.

In addition, Resnick has created online resources, from articles to Ted Talks, for those not ready to seek treatment.

“Everyone’s situation is different,” explains Resnick. “Some people may just have a question – others need a consultation. We will provide as much or as little as someone needs.”

She also will circle back to make sure family members are getting the information and services they need, redirecting or finding additional resources or new therapists, if needed.

“One person told me if I knew now what I knew then, things may have turned out differently. Addiction affects more than the individuals with the substance abuse problem – it has ripple effects for the whole family,” explains Grayson Cohen.

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