Peer Recovery Support Services: Helping Child Welfare Families with Substance Use Disorder

Parents involved with child welfare that have substance use (SUD) are often engaged with multiple systems including child welfare, SUD treatment, and the courts. To help families navigate these services and requirements, they can be assigned a Family Peer Mentor (FPMs). What is an FPM, what do they do, and are they helping families with parental SUD stay together?

An FPM is someone in long-term SUD recovery1 who also has experience with the child welfare system. They also complete a certification training program1 to learn how to apply their own experiences to help other families. The FPM is the family advocate, connecting the family to needed services and as emotional support promoting sober parenting. The relationship between the FPM and the family is collaborative with the shared goal of achieving parental sobriety and family safety and stability. FPMs are uniquely positioned not only to help families navigate the child welfare system, but also to provide the hope and motivation needed to achieve and maintain sobriety.

To better understand how FPMs help child welfare involved families, a study2 was conducted of the services and outcomes of 28 FPMs involved in the Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) in Kentucky. Each FPM was partnered with one child welfare caseworker, and this FPM/caseworker team served 12-15 families. This study shows the importance of FPMs in promoting family unification and parent sobriety:

FPM Study ResultsThe study also highlights the importance of supporting FPMs’ own sobriety as they transition from child welfare client to an employee supporting families through a very stressful situation. Of the 28 FPMs, 10 had a relapse or other ethical/policy violation that resulted in their removal; however, the remaining 18 FPMs realized stability and growth either with the child welfare agency or with other, more advanced positions.

With the goal of parental sobriety and family unification, the use of FPMs shows excellent promise. Kentucky START and programs using FPMs or peer supporters are not only helping families; these programs are keeping more children from entering out-of-home care while also giving individuals in recovery an opportunity for steady, full-time employment that appreciates their child welfare and SUD experience to help others.

1Click here for more information on The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) certification for Peer Recovery Supporters in Ohio: (

2Huebner, R. A., Hall, M. T., Smead, E., Willauer, T., & Posze, L. (2018). Peer mentoring services opportunities and outcomes Huebner 2018.pdf. Children & Society, 84, 239–246.

Introducing a New Needs Portal Staff Member

We are excited to announce a new Needs Portal staff member, Ian Murphy. Ian earned his MPH in Behavioral and Community Health Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. He will be a liaison between Needs Portal users and the evaluation team. Ian will also be conducting Needs Portal training.

If you need to reach any of the Needs Portal staff, you can email us at

Welcome to the team, Ian!

The OhioSTART Oct 2018 Interim Evaluation Report Reflects on Progress Made and Points to Future Directions

In early 2018, the OhioSTART intervention counties trained their employees on the new OhioSTART program and found partner agencies to implement the intervention. The purpose of the interim report is to evaluate OhioSTART thus far and confirm the project is in line with the long-term goals.

OhioSTART created a data use agreement with the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services to obtain SACWIS data and is in the process of analyzing that data. A plan for monitoring data fidelity is also in the development. The Needs Portal will be used for information management and data collection.

Front-line workers, supervisors, and administrators of OhioSTART were surveyed. The results of the survey showed there was an increase in collaboration between child welfare agencies and behavioral health agencies. The survey also found that family peer mentors bridged the gap between parents and child welfare agencies. When surveyed about OhioSTART training, some workers felt that they weren’t learning new information. OhioSTART parents were also surveyed. There was some difficulty getting the participants to respond, so it is necessary to continue to offer incentives.

The future for OhioSTART includes assessing the well-being of family peer mentors and the fidelity of interventions across sites, continue to encourage parents to participate in surveys, and monitor changes in child welfare outcomes – especially reunification.

You can find the full Oct 2018 report under “Publications” or click here.

OhioSTART Dashboard

OhioSTART is excited to announce that we now have a dashboard that gives you information on START cases in a way that’s easy to understand. You can find the Dashboard under the Evaluation menu or click here.

Information can be separated by county. Blue counties show data from Cohort 1 counties, orange shows Cohort 2 counties, and white counties are ones that are not a part of OhioSTART. Just click on the county you are interested in or choose one from the “Select County” drop-down menu, and the dashboard will only show data from that county. You can also hover over bar graphs for the exact number.

We will continue to add information to the Dashboard so that you can keep track of the cases and timelines. Feel free to contact us with the information you would like to see reflected in the Dashboard.

For more information, please refer to these two documents. The “Getting Started” document will help you start to navigate the Dashboard. The “Explaining the Numbers” document will help you better understand the data on the dashboard.

We are excited for you to see the progress OhioSTART is making!


NBC News Covers START in Fairfield County

“START targets the most at-risk kids in the county.”

“Fairfield County, Ohio’s Protective Workers used to almost automatically remove kids from the home if the parents were using drugs, but with 8 out of 10 cases of abuse and neglect, here, related to drugs (mainly opioids), and a severe shortage of foster care options, CPS workers in Ohio are trying a new approach to keep families together.” –NBC News

 (Click image to watch news story.)

image of a family with text "Program to Preserve Families in Opioid Ravaged Ohio"

People interviewed include:

  • Brittaney Pickerel – OhioSTART participant
  • Kitty Matson – Peer Supporter
  • Kristi Burre – Fairfield County Director of Child Protective Services

New! Needs Portal Training Videos

We know that many of you are already using the Needs Portal. We currently have 78 tickets logged by 9 different counties!

We hope that you are getting comfortable with the Needs Portal. To assist you, Elinam has just posted a set of videos guiding workers through the use of the Needs Portal. There are videos for caseworkers, family peer mentors, and service providers. In addition to the links below, you can access the videos from these two places:

  1. The Training Page of the this website
  2. The FAQ page available after you have logged into the Needs Portal.

For caseworkers

For Parent Mentors

For Service Providers

Please let us know of any additional training resources that would be helpful.

What Do Staff Think of OhioSTART?

During spring and summer 2018, the evaluation team conducted 16 interviews with various OhioSTART staff representing 6 counties, in order to assess perceptions of the program and guide further implementation.  Overall, the interviews reveal staff have positive perceptions of the OhioSTART model. While we are currently drafting a full report, we wanted to highlight some preliminary findings.

Bar Chart showing number and type of interview participants: 1 behavioral health provider, 4 child welfare caseworkers, 5 peer mentors, and 6 child welfare administrators.

OhioSTART is good for the child welfare system

  1. The model is influencing the child welfare system via an intensive, positive, and supportive approach to working with families experiencing substance use disorders and child welfare involvement.

“I think that it’s motivating for caseworkers to see that parents, some of which were involved with our agency, do recover. They’re able to get their children back.”

–Child Welfare Administrator

  1. Ohio START has resulted in increased and rapid communication and coordination of families’ services between child welfare staff and behavioral health providers.

“We are just having a lot more open communication with [AOD providers] than in the past and it is very helpful.”   

–Child Welfare Administrator

Peer Mentors are key to the success of the program

Peer Mentors are not only providing intensive and supportive services and modeling recovery for parents, but they are also a resource with experience of substance use disorders and a source of hope for child welfare staff.

“Having people who have walked that path (child welfare and substance disorder) for themselves as a model that it is possible to recover. It is possible to get your kids back. It is possible to have a healthy productive family life. It is possible. Recovery is possible and life is possible after. It’s not the end.”

–Behavioral Health Provider

Improvement can be made in services and implementation

  1. Interviewees also report additional service needs. For example, there is a reported shortage of inpatient behavioral health care for women, not enough housing in some communities and not enough child trauma services in some communities.
  2. Some interviewees note more of a planning period, as well as increased clarity on implementation and funding at the outset would have been helpful.
  3. Interviewees would like increased flexibility on when families can be included in OhioSTART.

Click here for a 2-page summary with more inspiring and helpful quotes.

Introducing New Needs Portal Staff

I wanted to introduce two new team members who will be helping with the Needs Portal for Ohio START.  We hope that by adding staff we can provide you with better support during Year 2.5.

Christy Kranich, M.S.W. has been providing support to Ohio START in the background for the past year. She was the primary force in developing the website ( and the infographics for the interim evaluation reports.  For the past few months, she has been shadowing Eli Dellor at the trainings.  Christy will be conducting trainings and answering TA calls and emails.

Karla Shockley McCarthy, M.S.W. is a current Ph.D. student.  Karla was one of two students who developed the Opioid Family Support Toolkit (found here: She has also developed an infographic on using drug tests in child welfare (stay tuned for a copy) and has been supporting our Regional Partnership Grant with Fairfield and Pickaway counties. For the Needs Portal, she will be scheduling trainings, including those with your local providers, and answering TA calls and emails.

 Eli Dellor is still assisting with trainings and providing TA.  She is working on developing some “how to” videos to walk you through using the Portal. 

As a reminder, if you are already using the Needs Portal, you only need to add new tickets for new cases and update the VOCA services provided each month and we will pull the reports Fawn needs.  If you haven’t begun entering tickets, let us know if you need a refresher training.

 We also have a new email

 We look forward to continuing to work with all of you!


Helping Someone Who Has Witnessed an Overdose: Opioid Overdose Family Support Toolkit

If you have witnessed or experienced an overdose, you know it can be a scene of chaos and confusion as first responders, interested bystanders, family members, and friends try to save the life of the person who has overdosed.

Researchers at The Ohio State University College of Social Work and College of Pharmacy have developed the Opioid Overdose Family Support Toolkit with support and resources for families, children and first responders impacted by opioid use and overdose.

Screen shot of the website for the Opioid Overdose Family Support Toolkit. Talks about the trauma of addiction and overdose and shows a graphic about knowing the sign of overdose.

You can find the following information on the Toolkit website: