Many families struggle, often in private, with substance use. But beginning a conversation around substance use with any family can often feel uncomfortable and awkward, even for professionals who work with children and families every day, like home visitors and early child care professionals. 

When families can feel safe to talk about substance use in a non-judgmental and hopeful way, the relationship between a professional dedicating their career to supporting families and any parent can be strengthened, and children are ultimately safer for it. 

That is why, in 2017, Illuminate Colorado developed the Smart Choices Safe Kids Conversation Guide for Professionals to learn how to incorporate topics like substance use and safe storage into everyday conversations with families. Since then, Illuminate has trained over 600 professionals across Colorado to have strength based conversations with families and distributed more than 8,000 safe storage bags making their way into the hands of Colorado families.

The strength based conversations promote a multi-generational approach, encouraging professionals to think critically about substance use and substance use disorders, as each family is unique. The training includes a “Conversation Guide” of scripts for professionals to use as guidelines to start and continue conversations on safe homes, safe caregiving and child & family well-being, at every age and stage of life. 

“The key to a successful conversation is to avoid judgment, stigma, and bias – actively listening and engaging with the family you are working with. All families want the best for their children and have hopes and dreams for their children’s futures.” Jason Read M.Ed., education and training program manager with Illuminate Colorado. “Using substances, whether legal, illegal, or prescribed, doesn’t change how much parents care about their children, but it may impact their ability to do what is best for them.”

In addition to receiving tips, techniques and strategies to help keep kids safe and families healthy, professionals leave the training with Smart Choices Safe Kids brochures for people parenting in English and Spanish and safe storage bags to share with families. With the brochure inside of the bags, professionals have a tool to universally share with families to continue conversations around safety in the home. 

Taking the Conversation Guide training has provided our staff with the language and strategies to have difficult conversations with the families we support,” shared Sherry Price, deputy director of Hilltop Family Resource Center one of many organizations that have encouraged their staff to take the Conversation Guide training. “Giving safe storage bags to families has been a life-saver in promoting a safe home and reducing risk of children accidentally ingesting harmful substances such as prescriptions, legal substances and poisonings.”

Many home visitors already talk about where the cleaning products are stored, or keeping certain items out of reach of small children. Now they can incorporate the bag into a conversation about safety, and talk about what other items could be stored in the locking bag, like medications, edibles or paraphernalia, for example. 

And in 2021, in addition to supporting Colorado professionals, Illuminate is set to begin training Head Start staff across the country to use this Conversation Guide for Professionals, in partnership with the National Center of Health, Behavioral Health and Safety (NCHBHS), under the Office of Head Start, an Office of the Administration for Children & Families. Collaborating with NCHBHS in this way puts Illuminate in the company of some extraordinary national leaders in child development. Other partners in the NCHBHS include: Sesame Workshop, Child Trends, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development and Child Trauma Research Program, to name just a few.

“This is an exciting endeavor to help build knowledge and comfort in having conversations with families about substances and substance use all across the country,” said Anne Auld director of education for Illuminate Colorado“Over the course of the next five years, we will not only train Head Start staff across the nation, we will also create a Train the Trainer model to ensure organizations have ongoing access to this training and increased organizational capacity to strengthen families and their own communities. That’s how we create transformation change.” 

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Learn more about the Smart Choices Safe Kids and the Conversation Guide for Professionals.

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