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Helping kids cope with family addiction

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Jerry Moe, national director of children’s programs from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, speaks Tuesday at the Thoburn United Methodist Church.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Educators, agency professionals, law-enforcement and others from Belmont County and the surrounding counties gathered to better educate themselves on families struggling with addiction.

Jerry Moe, national director of children’s programs from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, laid out strategies to help children with parents or other family members struggling with addiction cope and thrive. Moe’s presentation was held at Thoburn United Methodist Church Tuesday.

“We are in a room full of professionals. We’ve got teachers, we’ve got counselors, we’ve got therapists, we’ve got people that work in law enforcement, children’s protective services, a lot of different areas,” Moe said. “Almost one out of every three boys and girls in America today is growing up with a family hurt by addiction, so the whole focus is how can we as professionals help these kids understand that it’s not their fault and they’re not to blame? How do we help them see that there are safe people and there are safe places?”

This was his first time speaking in Belmont County. Moe said he spoke in June at the Ohio Conference on Opiates and was invited by the Mental Health and Recovery Board. He said he was impressed by local response and the questions posed to him.

“What’s very clear to see is the level of dedication and the level of love for kids and families that have been hurt by this,” he said. “Today, with such a complex issue, there’s never enough tools and techniques that I could have.”

Moe said the goal was to end the cycle of drug dependency and prevent these ills from being passed on to the next generation, along with teaching children self-care and coping when living in these situations. The age range for the programs covers pre-schoolers through teens.

Moe has worked with Sesame Street to create a character and storyline to help children with recovering family. Karli, a 6-year-old Muppet whose mom is dealing with addiction, was introduced to Sesame Street in October 2019.

“When we look specifically at the opiod epidemic, there’s a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren,” he said. “That addiction has been in each generation, so how do we break this cycle? Maybe we start with the kids, and if we can prevent them from having this problem, it changes things significantly for our communities.”

Jayn Devney, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board, said Moe brought valuable resources.

“We invited him in because we know that addiction issues touches everybody in our area,” Devney said. “We all have pieces of it, but we thought it would be helpful for all of us to hear this information about the impact on children.”

“It was one of the better presentations,” Joyce Benline, professional counselor with the Tri-County Help Center said. “To have somebody of his statue here in this area is really good.”

“We see a lot of this in the kids that we serve,” Caleb Knorr, child therapist with Coleman Professional Services in Steubenville, said. “A lot of broken homes, maybe due to drug addiction. … It is a big problem and it only seems to be growing.”

Knorr said he was impressed with Moe’s creativity and flexibility in engaging children and building trust to teach them skills.

“Working with kids, you never know what they’re going to bring into the room,” Knorr said.

Sherri Birney, home visitor with Help Me Grow out of Harrison County, said the presentation was “very interesting,” adding that she appreciated how the presentation helped professionals see this situation from a child’s view point.

Moe added this is National Children of Addiction Week. The National Association for Children of Addiction offers free resources at www.nacoa.org.

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