FAIRMONT– Fairmont Elementary School just wrapped up its first round of Celebrating Families. The 15-week program was done in partnership with Faribault, Martin and Jackson drug court programs and Human Services of Faribault and Martin Counties.
Celebrating Families is a whole family prevention program designed for families with chemical dependency issues.
Tracy Henning, Drug Court Coordinator with Faribault, Martin, Jackson and Cottonwood Counties, said New Ulm runs the program and their drug court participants attended. She reached out to Fairmont Elementary School Social Worker, Amy Becker, to talk about starting a similar program here. That was in 2019.
Training was done in December 2019 and the program started up in January 2020. It went on for several weeks before the pandemic put an early end to the program.
However, the program didn’t start up again until September 2021 because it took awhile to secure new funding.
This time around, nine family groups completed the session. There were 12 parents and 23 children ages 0-16. Most families were from Martin County, but there was one from Faribault County and one from Jackson County.
Henning said most families were required to attend through the adult drug court program, the family dependency treatment court program or a child protection referral. However one family did voluntarily complete the program.
“It highlighted communication skills, healthy eating and boundaries. It addressed alcohol, drug and tobacco use,” said Henning.
The families met 2.5 hours every Wednesday evening for 15 weeks. Each session started off with a family meal as Henning said some of the families had never really eaten together. Facilitators and staff sat with families to help guide conversations.
Then everyone broke off into groups, with a parent group and several children groups broken into different age levels.
“Each group was given the same information, just at their developmental age level,” Henning explained.
While families talked about a variety of topics, Becker said several groups focused on chemical dependency issues and how that impacted parenting and things that children learned.
“Often times when there’s chemical dependency issues, the messages that kids are getting aren’t necessarily the healthiest messages. It’s a way of re-educating the kids and helping the parents on how to re-establish boundaries,” Becker explained.
She said said the program is unique because, while parents often go to chemical dependency treatment or receive parenting classes, this is the only program of its kind in this area that includes the whole family.
“Often, families that have chemical dependency issues have different parenting issues, too, that need to be talked about, so this brings all of that together,” she explained.
Becker said another big thing the program did was help children see that they’re not the only ones in this situation.
“It really addresses that they didn’t cause it, they can’t control it and they can’t cure it. It’s not their fault that their parents are using but we talk about what they can do themselves to get the support they need. It’s a huge educational piece for them,” Henning said of the children in the program.
The dedicated facilitators ensured the success of the program.
“All the facilitators went though the two-and-a-half day training,” Henning said.
The trainings and manuals used for the program were from the National Association for Children of Addiction.
Facilitators included staff from Human Services, staff from the elementary and high school, a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and a Youth Intervention and Prevention Coordinator.
As for how the program’s first time around went, Henning said, “it went really well. I think the group that most benefiting was the teen group. They had great facilitators and a lot of really great discussions.”
Becker said they noticed families having great conversations during meal times, which was good to see.
“At the end of each night we came back for ‘connecting with my family’ where they did some kind of family activity. During that time the kids could share information about what they learned and that was fun to see them present information about healthy living,” Becker shared.
Becker said ideally they’d like to secure a grant that’s large enough to run the program for several years.
Both Henning and Becker thanked the groups the program received funding from. They include: the Schmeeckle Foundation, Youth First, Services for Challenging Youth, Human Services of Faribault and Martin Counties and Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont.
Becker said Patti Reigel, a food service worker at Fairmont Elementary School, also helped tremendously. She prepared all of the meals, ensuring that they would be healthy and something that families would enjoy.
“We’re very thankful we were able to get this going and we appreciate the community partners who helped us do this, as well as the families that participated,” Becker said.