Developing Resilience as a tool for Breaking the Cycle of Substance Use

Building Resilience & Reducing Harm, Sanford Inspirations, 2017

Developing Resilience as a tool for Breaking the Cycle of Substance Use

Children and youth with adverse childhood experiences include those that have experienced “all types of abuse and neglect, parental mental illness, substance use, incarceration, and domestic violence.”[1] These children and youth are at an increased risk of “developing both chronic diseases and substance use disorders.”[2] Recent studies reveal that 54% of youth age 12-17 used alcohol at least once and 41% had used marijuana while in care.[3] Additionally, youth currently in foster homes reported using drugs other than marijuana, including “hallucinogens (13.5%), stimulants (12.1%), non-street opiates (9.8%), and powder (5.5%) and crack cocaine (5.2%), all of which were higher than the comparison group.”[4] Additionally, youth in foster care “begin substance use at an earlier age than their peers who had not been in foster care,” placing them at an increased risk for developing substance dependence disorders.[5]

Many youth in the child welfare system turn to substance use as a way to cope with their past trauma experiences.[6] However, this coping mechanism has a detrimental and harmful effect on the lives of many youth who have been in the child welfare system. Substance usage not only puts youth at risk of developing substance disorders, but it also results in an increased risk of academic difficulties, difficulty building lasting relationships, and involvement with the juvenile justice system.[7]

Child welfare systems across the country have sought to address the issue of drug use among foster youth, but “no system has mastered the prevention of drug use among foster kids.”[8] Child welfare systems typically refer children and families to substance treatment programs ex post. Additionally, systems have began  (1) differentiating behaviors from underlying needs in order to better identify and address children’s needs, (2) collaborating with and integrating other systems, including the Department of Mental Health, and (3) placing children with the highest needs in group care with specially trained caregivers.[9] However, at a more granular level, resilience appears to be an underdeveloped tool that may help many youth break the cycle of substance abuse.

Resilience is “the ability to overcome obstacles, preserve through hardships, as well as the ability to balance negative experiences with positive factors that protect [a child’s] overall well-being.”[10] This skill allows youth to bounce back from difficulties and more easily adjust to change. Resiliencies have been grouped into seven categories: 

[1]Insight begins with a sense that life in the troubled family is strange. Such insight

can eventually protect the child from a tendency to internalize family troubles and feel

guilty.

[2] Independence is the child separating herself from the troubled family.

[3] Relationships fulfill needs that troubled families cannot meet.

[4] Initiative is the desire to overcome feelings of helplessness that a child can succumb

to in the troubled family.

[5] Creativity is the ability to take pain and transform it into something artistic and

worthwhile.

[6] Humor allows the child to make the tragic into something comic and laugh at his

emotional suffering.

[7] Morality is developing a set of principles that differentiates bad from good both

inside and outside the family.[11]

Resilience provides children and youth with adverse childhood experiences the ability “to fantasize about another time or place, [be] able to read and learn about a better time and place, realiz[e] that they are not responsible for the abuse directed at them, and hav[e] an adult in their life for a considerable period of time who sees them in a positive way.”[12] Furthermore, a 2012 article published in the Journal of Alcoholism: Clinicial and Experimental Research reported, “that relisiliency is related to lower levels of initial substance use, fewer problems with alcohol, and better working memory.”[13] Several characteristics of resilient youth (including high self-esteem, empathy, help-seeking, and self-awareness) overlap with “factors that deter children from engaging in harmful substances like tobacco, marijuana and alcohol.”[14] Thus, developing resilience in children in foster care could help some children break the cyle of substance dependence.

While resilience should not take the place of other court ordered services, supports, or treatment programs, it should be viewed as a vital skill that every child and youth in foster care is given the opportunity to develop. Furthermore, in seeking the best outcome for children in foster care, every individual (foster parents, attorneys, social workers etc.) in contact with the child should play an active role in helping the child build resilience by encouraging insight, independence, relationships, initiative, creativity, humor, and morality.


[1] Resilience Helps to Prevent Youth Substance Use (Feb. 24, 2020), https://accesshealthme.org/resiliency-helps-to-prevent-youth-substance-use/.

[2]  Id.

[3] Jordan M. Braciszewskia & Robert L. Stout, Substance Use Among Current and Former Foster Youth: A Systematic Review, Child Youth Serv Rev. (2012) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3596821/.

[4] Id.

[5] Preventing, Identifying, and Treating Substance Use Among Youth in Foster Care (Oct. 2020), https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/bulletins_youthsud.pdf.

[6] Understanding Substance Use Disorders—What Child Welfare Staff Need to Know, https://www.cffutures.org/files/nccan2019/web/usud/CWS_Practices_Tip_Guide%231_bg_cv.pdf.

[7] Consequences of Youth Substance Abuse (May 1998),  https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh176/files/pubs/drugid/ration-03.html.

[8] American Addiction Centers Editoria Staff, 3 Risk Factors for Foster Youth Drug Abuse (June 30, 2021), https://rehabs.com/blog/3-risk-factors-for-foster-youth-drug-abuse/.

[9]  Id.

[10] Resilience Helps to Prevent Youth Substance Use, supra note 1.

[11] Braciszewskia & Stout, supra note 3.

[12] Id.

[13] Resilience Helps to Prevent Youth Substance Use, supra note 1.

[14] Id.

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law: Damaging to LGBTQ+ Students, Parents, and Teachers

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill into law on Monday. The bill, dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through 3rd grade. The bill’s language states: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”[1] Parents can sue school districts over violations.

The legislation also requires schools to notify parents of any health or support services provided to their kids in school and gives them an opportunity to deny the services on behalf of their children.

The new law further marginalizes LBGTQ+ communities and puts youth who identify as members of that community at risk. A CDC study, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, shows that many LBGTQ+ young people are susceptible to higher health and suicide risks than their classmates.[2] The Trevor Project reports that “when those kids are given access to spaces that affirm their gender identity, they report lower rates of suicide attempts.”[3] Taking away a potentially safe space at school could lead to devastating results.

On Thursday, a group of LBGTQ+ advocates sued Florida and the DeSantis administration in federal court over the bill.[4] Lawyers representing the group argue that the bill violates the First and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as federal Title IX rules. The complaint attacks “vagueness” in the law and states “[t]he law not only stigmatizes and silences those vulnerable students, exacerbating risks to their welfare, but also threatens school officials who foster a safe and inclusive environment for them.”[5]

Teachers especially fear the effect this law will have on the way they teach and what their students share. In an article shared by NPR, one Florida teacher says, “[i]t makes wonder, when I talk about families in my classroom, am I going to be violating this law because the children were having discussions about what their family looks like… I’m very fearful that this law is going to just open it up for a lot of more things to start being discriminated against.”[6]


[1] Jaclyn Diaz, Florida’s governor signs controversial law opponents dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay”, NPR (March 28, 2022), https://www.npr.org/2022/03/28/1089221657/dont-say-gay-florida-desantis.

[2] Madeleine Roberts, New CDC Data Shows LGBTQ Youth are More Likely to be Bullied Than Straight Cisgender Youth, Human Rights Campaign (August 26, 2020), https://www.hrc.org/news/new-cdc-data-shows-lgbtq-youth-are-more-likely-to-be-bullied-than-straight-cisgender-youth

[3] Jaclyn Diaz, Florida’s governor signs controversial law opponents dubbed ‘Don’t Say Gay”, NPR (March 28, 2022), https://www.npr.org/2022/03/28/1089221657/dont-say-gay-florida-desantis.

[4] Andrew Atterbury, LGBTQ advocates sue over Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, Politico (March 31, 2022), https://www.politico.com/news/2022/03/31/lgbtq-advocates-sue-florida-00022001.

[5] Id.

[6] Melissa Block, Teachers fear the chilling effect of Florida’s so called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, NPR (March 30, 2022), https://www.npr.org/2022/03/30/1089462508/teachers-fear-the-chilling-effect-of-floridas-so-called-dont-say-gay-law.

Reporting Abuse with the Abuser Present: How a Minnesota Law Continues to Traumatize Child Abuse Victims

Maya White came forward to report that her father was abusing her when she was a sixth-grader. Maya soon realized that she would have to report the abuse while in the presence of her father. In her own words, Maya, now 15 years old, explained that “not only did I have to tell my story to complete strangers, but I was also forced to do so in front of my abuser.”

No child should have to report the abuse they endured in the presence of their abuser. Unfortunately, children who suffer child abuse in Minnesota are often forced to report the abuse they experience in front of their abuser because Minnesota does not grant “children the right to be interviewed separately from their guardians when reporting abuse – even if the guardian is the alleged abuser,” according to the Minnesota House of Representatives

Maya is using her voice to call for a change, stating that “no child should have to go through the same experience that I did.” Minnesota lawmakers, including Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL – Roseville), agree. Rep. Becker-Finn sponsored a new Minnesota law, HF3971, referred to as “Maya’s Law,” which would require that child welfare interviews occur without the alleged abuser being present. To force children to tell child welfare investigators their experiences of abuse with alleged abusers present “is incredibly problematic,” argued Rep. Becker-Finn. She continued by saying that “it does not allow us to really get to the heart of what’s going on to keep children protected.”

The Minnesota House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee approved the bill on March 17, 2022. The bill was then sent to Minnesota’s House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. If the bill becomes law, officials (1) would no longer interview children with their abuser present, (2) would interview the child before interviewing the alleged abuser or the child’s guardian or school officials, (3) would allow officials to interview the child without a guardian’s permission, and (4) require that interviews with children in foster care who are five years of age or older occur without the foster parents being present.