Posted by JF&CS

We are proud to announce that JF&CS has received two grants from the Department of Public Health (DPH) to support mothers and families who are impacted by opioid use. These two grants were awarded as part of DPH’s FIRST (Families in Recovery SupporT) Steps Together initiative, which provides seven sites across Massachusetts with the resources and knowledge needed to make a positive change in the lives of families affected by parental opioid use disorder. One grant created a Training and Technical Assistance team at JF&CS that will support all seven sites, while the second grant recognizes and enables us to expand an existing JF&CS program that supports moms in recovery as a FIRST Steps Together site.

Tackling the Opioid Crisis

Last year, over two thousand people in Massachusetts died due to opioid use. The number of opioid-related deaths in the state is now two times higher than the national average, and Massachusetts is among the top ten states for opioid deaths. With the rising rate of opioid use, there’s a greater chance of pregnant and postpartum mothers having to juggle addiction and motherhood. Many individuals who suffer from substance use disorder don’t seek out help, whether it’s due to a lack of resources or the stigma around opioid use.

In response to the opioid crisis, JF&CS created Project NESST® in 2011 with a grant from the Hawk Foundation to support pregnant women and mothers of young children in their recovery. Through this home visiting program, our staff focus on the intersection between recovery and parenting in order to help both the mother and child. Mothers are matched with a maternal recovery specialist, an individual in recovery herself who has received specialized training. Maternal recovery specialists are able to support mothers through their unique perspective of understanding what participants are going through. In addition to maternal recovery specialists who help through peer support, Project NESST also has clinicians who focus on the psychological issues and struggles that impact recovery and parenting.

The FIRST Steps Together sites set themselves apart through their focus on providing peer-based intervention, which supports mothers in both aspects of their lives. There are multiple components that go into the home visiting program that allow family recovery support specialists to help with the parent-child relationship, recovery support, and care coordination for those involved.

Sharing Resources and Best Practices

Due to our experience and success with recovery and parenting programs, JF&CS was also chosen to be the home of the new Technical and Training Assistance team of the FIRST Steps Together initiative. “One of the things that was clear was that there were a lot of other programs at JF&CS that would support this work. Having this linked to the Center for Early Relationship Support®, which runs various home visiting programs, the Infant-Parent Training Institute, and Project NESST, we felt like JF&CS really understood what was needed from a training perspective,” shared Debra Bercuvitz, Director of FIRST Steps Together at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The Training and Technical Assistance team works with all seven direct service sites throughout Massachusetts and focuses on sharing knowledge and best practices, while also providing support for the development of each site. “The technical assistance and training means that we can really share all that we’ve been able to learn from one end of the state to the other,” said Amy Sommer, Director of Project NESST.

What makes this program unique is how resources are shared. “One thing we’ve brought to this project that’s different from other similar projects is really finding ways for us to not just be supporting sites, but for the sites to benefit from each other’s experience and to share their challenges with others,” said Clare Grace Jones, Training/Technical Assistance Director for FIRST Steps Together. The Technical and Training Assistance team travels throughout the state to effectively support the direct service sites, in addition to utilizing an online platform that encourages sites to engage with each other.

The collaborative focus of FIRST Steps Together is what makes the program so successful, despite the distance between sites. Each site has different experiences and hurdles, but they can share what they learn with other program managers. “It makes us part of a network. If we have questions about something we can reach out to the other sites and ask how they solved the problem, or how they would address specific challenges. It’s been really nice to have people who are doing the same work that we can reach out to and connect with,” said Amy. There’s also collaboration between DPH and the Technical and Training Assistance team. They’re able to communicate to come up with new ideas and push the program forward. “We have this incredible team that takes our vision and figures out how to implement it. We’re so lucky to have such a capable team that is making this happen on a practical level,” said Debra. “The opioid crisis is still affecting millions of people, especially parents with young children who will bear the impact of this crisis for years to come. There’s a need for this service and FIRST Steps Together funding has allowed us to expand our staff so we can serve even more parents in recovery,” said Amy.

Being There for Mothers in Recovery

With the help of the First Steps Together initiative, mothers are being supported through their recovery without being judged. Maternal recovery specialists provide an understanding shoulder to lean on when mothers are struggling to balance their health and their family. They have the opportunity to share their feelings about parenting joys and challenges, as well as receive the encouragement they need through their recovery.

Thanks to DPH, Project NESST can help even more moms in recovery through home visits, recovery coaching, parenting support, and connections to community-based services. With professional training and reliable support from the Technical and Training Assistance team, the FIRST Steps Together sites can make a positive impact in their communities.

Learn more about Project NESST.