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November 15, 2021
The Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) is hosting its first National Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Summit: Innovating Partnerships with Families in Recovery, on Wednesday, January 26, 2022. The all-day virtual Summit will include three nationwide conversations on:
- the power of peer-to-peer supports in ensuring equitable and inclusive recovery interventions that center family voice and power, facilitated by recovery coaches with lived experience of SUD and their parent and professional partners
- strengthening comprehensive systems approaches by assembling, connecting, and coordinating the broad array of sustainable supports, services, and resources for parents in recovery
- transdisciplinary collaboration, distilling the key ingredients of effective approaches for building therapeutic relationships based on safety, trust, and hope that promote parents’ motivation for recovery, and resilient responses to the relapses and recurrences that characterize this chronic disease’s course
Research has shown that the quality of the caregiving relationship is the single most important factor in a baby’s recovery from substance exposure and mitigation of potential long-term deleterious effects on development. Yet from the beginning of the nation’s opioid epidemic, policy, funding, and health care attention have been focused primarily on individuals, with emphasis on critically important medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Individuals in parenting roles, in the contexts of their families and communities, have received far less attention and support, even though the opioid epidemic now also contributes to racial disparities in maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. To the extent that the intergenerational effects of opioid use on fetuses and babies are addressed, resources largely target the much-needed medical treatment of hospitalized newborns with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).
BTC’s critical role in mitigating the intergenerational effects of the opioid epidemic to promote infant and parent recovery and healthy development adds five additional strategies to MAT for adults, and pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatment for newborns with abstinence or withdrawal syndromes:
- Surface stigma, subtle or overt, wherever it resides, and substitute safe, respectful, trust-building, and strengths-based parent-professional interactions
- Build parent skills for understanding newborn behaviors as communications, for responding to challenging substance-exposure-related newborn behaviors, and promote parental confidence and sense of competence, and parent-infant attachment
- Leverage the vulnerabilities and opportunities of new parenthood to mobilize parents — who often do not feel they deserve help but know their babies do — to accept and stay with treatment
- Provide anticipatory guidance and additional supports for families as the predictable Touchpoints of development approach, These are challenging times for all families, but all the more so for infants and young children with self-regulation difficulties related to in-utero substance exposure, and for parents with self-regulation difficulties related to the recovery process and to the traumatic pasts of the majority of mothers with SUD. Although a new baby can help parents discover new depths of motivation for their recovery, the first days and years of a child’s life predictably add more stress to those that precede and accompany SUD.
- Catalyze a shared vision and common, strengths-based language across sectors within communities. SUD is most often a chronic, recurrent disease that disrupts many aspects of a family’s functioning and resources — not just health and mental health, but also housing, employment, legal status, and more. Families with new babies living with SUD need treatment beyond MAT and for NOWS, longer-term treatment and comprehensive supports.
BTC’s involvement in the impact of substance use on infants and families dates back to the 1970s and the advent of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, used in nearly 1,000 research studies to date, including many assessing the effects of environmental toxins; anesthesia during labor; and medications, alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substances during pregnancy on newborn behavior. BTC’s work in this area has included a partnership with First 5 Santa Clara County, beginning in 2007, on a comprehensive, cross-sector county-wide U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded initiative bringing together 28 agencies, all involved with families with infants born after in-utero methamphetamine exposure. As a result of Touchpoints training, Judge Katherine Lucero, changed the name of her Santa Clara court from Drug Court to Family Wellness Court. She participated with BTC leadership in an educational congressional briefing on this approach entitled, Babies, Parents and the Opioid Epidemic: We Know What to Do, in the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Representatives DeLauro (D-CT) and Hunter (R-CA) in 2016.
BTC has adapted both the Touchpoints Approach and the Newborn Behavior Observation System (the NBO, a shorter, simpler, clinical version of the research-focused Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale) for families in recovery, and has been building capacity for their implementation through partnerships with clinics, hospitals, home visiting, and other programs serving families in recovery in California, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Washington, and West Virginia.
This SUD Summit will not be just another conference. Instead, it is part of a strategic set of activities to spread and scale infant/parent development expertise to every community in the United States affected by the opioid epidemic. In addition to parents, providers, and program leaders who have partnered with BTC on this work, the Summit will also feature state and federal policy makers and philanthropists as speakers and panelists, including representatives from HRSA, the Community Health Acceleration Partnership (a New Jersey funder), and the Perigee Foundation of Washington State. The Summit is designed and will be implemented to further spread this work to other agencies in each of these states, to other communities and states, and to create a national, cross-sector network and learning community who can, together, transform mindsets and systems of care for families in recovery.