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Parental attitudes, ease of access fuel teen substance abuse

The Communities that Care program is moving forward into its second year, with a coalition survey to determine the health and function of the coalition. The 2018 survey revealed that Chaffee County youth are experiencing three significant risk factor impacting outcomes for Chaffee County youth. They include: ease of access to drugs, alcohol and tobacco, early initiation of substance use, and favorable parental attitudes to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The upcoming survey, which will be read in 2019, continues to focus on risk factors and protective factors to help improve outcomes for Chaffee County youth.

“Growing up in rural areas is different (than the city),” said Communities That Care Facilitator Liz Sielatycki, who began her new role as facilitator in October. “I see this effort in both communities to whatever degree it may be, we know there is some sort of issue with youth using – whether it is lack of opportunities or activities – we need more support and resources for kids as well.”

The CTC action group, which calls itself the Chaffee County Youth Alliance, is a subset of the Communities that Care program the county embarked on in 2017. The more than two-dozen members represent a cross section of youth support, health and mental health services, schools and youth organizations, concerned citizens, judicial representation and law enforcement. The group exists to create opportunities, remove barriers and allocate resources to cultivate positive relationships and promote youth and family well-being. In fact, the combined effort of the CCYA constitutes one facet of the county’s major protective factor – that the community, the schools, and families are working together to create positive social involvement to support the county’s teens and youth.

Sielatycki said more public awareness is needed that parents’ permissiveness can lead directly to early use. “In our coalition meeting in a small group focusing on this risk factor, I have heard stories of people who grew up in an environment where parents use with their children. Here is where education comes in – inspiring a culture among adults to recognizes where you are coming from and ‘this is what it (permissiveness) looks like’. It’s difficult to say ‘you’re doing this wrong.’ “

Sielatycki said that a lot of well-meaning parents fall into this trap. “They mean well. Some say, ‘Well I’d rather they drink at our house and I know they are safe.’ But this is substance permissiveness. We need to get that word out to parents.”

The county has a five year CTC grant and is in year two of the program. But CTC work is not bound by the grant. The county can continue looking for funding to make teen programming sustainable outside that grant and further out than the next three years. Sielatycki said that looking for these grants is in her job description and there will be a work group formed as part of phase five to assist with grant identification and applications.

The CTC program has already launched some teen programming tools based upon options county teens have identified. A teen council has been formed. A new offering, the Chaffee Teen Wellness Voucher, is available at several locations throughout the county (including at the Ark Valley Voice office at 101 F. Street). It provides teens two free, one-hour visits with a Solvista Health counselor to help during overwhelming and stressful times.

The teens have also asked for a teen events discount card to provide more opportunity for healthy teen activities, as well as some sort of teen transportation piece; which could help teens get between Salida and Buena Vista for teen events. Reaching this stage has taken two years of careful effort, much of it led by former facilitator Miki Hodge.

“We’ve finally reached stage four, where we start the action,” said Sielatycki. “I’m impressed with what the coalition has done so far and what is in the planning stages for the county. We have to visualize the intended outcomes – so we know if the strategies are taking us in the right direction.”

Sielatycki says change is effected by setting the goals and acting on them. “We need public support for the conventional enforcement of existing laws to counteract ease of access. We need to build support for district-wide implementation of a school substance abuse prevention curricula. And I hope we can participate in what will be a state-wide effort to counteract favorable parental attitudes to substance use – especially early use.”

The next step for the CCYA will be to training the coalition to execute each strategy. “Everybody in the county coalition has their own expertise that will be part of our community action plan,” said Sielatycki. “That’s phase four in a nutshell – make it happen.”