Friday, November 27 , 2015, 12:33 am | A Few Clouds 43º

Bill Cirone: Children, Families Find Hope and Healing at Betty Ford Center

By Bill Cirone |

Consider the power of these “seven Cs” for little boys and girls who have a loved one suffering from drug or alcohol addiction: “I didn’t Cause it, I can’t Cure it, I can’t Control it, but I can take Care of myself by Communicating feelings, making healthy Choices, and Celebrating myself.”

This message is one of many folded into the children’s services offered through the Betty Ford Center, where dozens of Santa Barbara-area children and families have been referred.

Recently, the Betty Ford Center and the Hazelden Foundation merged, creating what I believe was a great day in the history of recovery — two of the most renowned national leaders in addiction treatment and services joining forces and beginning a new journey together.

As a member of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation board, I am very excited about what this joint effort will mean for the youth and families who benefit most from their services.

Through the Betty Ford Children’s Program, 7- to 12-year-old children of parents or siblings who are addicted learn skills and techniques to deal with their painful family situation. No child is ever turned away because of an inability to pay. There is a sliding fee scale made possible through scholarships raised by the center’s foundation.

National Director Jerry Moe explained that science tells us these young children are at the highest risk of having addiction problems of their own. The program targets these children before they have taken their first drink or drug, and provides skills to help significantly reduce the risk that they will fall into the same pattern. It also gives young people the skills, tools and strategies to cope with the chaos and inconsistency of living in a family hurt by addiction.

Talking about the parts of the program he is most proud of, Jerry said recently, “It is the joy of watching little boys and girls truly understand that it’s not their fault. So many of them carry guilt and shame and think they are somehow responsible for mom or dad or an older brother or sister’s addiction.” He said it’s truly liberating for them to fully understand that’s not the case.

He also pointed out that when young people come into the program the very first morning, they realize immediately that they’re not alone.

“One out of every four kids in the U.S. is growing up in a family with someone who has this awful disease,” he explained. “It is a disease of silence, isolation and secrecy. Seeing other kids dealing with the same problems and issues is relieving. It normalizes the experience.”

Through the four-day program for children, which entails about 24 hours, the center gets to develop solid relationships with the children, and when the program is finished, staff members stay in touch. Little boys and girls receive newsletters plus an 800 number they can call and an email address they can use if ever the need arises. This keeps the relationship going and continues as a source of strength and hope.

It’s important to note that parents do not have to be patients at the Betty Ford Center for their children to take part.

The program helps kids learn about addiction through age-appropriate activities and enables them to talk openly in a safe, supportive environment. It is considered a nurturing haven of help, hope and healing.

Locally, the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission has already referred more than 20 children and families to the center in Rancho Mirage, with great success.

Rescue Mission Director Rolf Geyling said: “As addiction can have a devastating impact on relationships, we have the highest regard for Betty Ford Center’s programs to assist children and family members of addicts. We not only refer clients but send staff for professional development, which has led to several principles being integrated into our own treatment efforts.”

He explained that despite the prevalence of addiction, there are few effective treatment options for those who struggle.

“This becomes even more evident when we look at more specific at-risk populations, such as children,” he said. “Addiction is dangerous to individuals of any age, but given research that demonstrates the long-term damage addiction can wreak on developing adolescent brains, it is even more urgent that children and teenagers struggling with addiction receive immediate and effective treatment.”

As the largest residential treatment center on the Central Coast, the Rescue Mission is approached every day by people of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life, desperate for treatment. In the face of overwhelming need, the Rescue Mission focuses efforts on adult treatment and refers people to a network of partners for those who fall outside its scope. The Betty Ford Center has been one of those important partners for serving youth.

Both the Children’s Program and the Family Program at the Betty Ford Center are open to the public and don’t require that a loved one be in treatment at the center.

I believe it’s important that local families are aware of the program and especially its services for children. Help, hope and healing for the family can begin with one phone call to the center, at 760.773.4291, or an email to [email protected]. Help is that close.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

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