Coates: The imperative of treatment and incarceration alternatives in the age of COVID-19

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Coates: The imperative of treatment and incarceration alternatives in the age of COVID-19

Sat, 08/01/2020 - 3:49pm -- tim

Tricia Coates, Interim Executive Director, LUND For Claire, the pandemic has been harsh on her and her young children. Between juggling care for her children as a single mom already living in poverty before the pandemic, worrying about paying her bills because of reduced hours at work, and isolation from her support network, she sought relief in the drugs she hadn’t touched in three years.

Will Claire sink back into her addiction? Will she lose her job because of it? Will she lose her children? Will she lose her life?

According to the CDC, a spike in substance misuse and overdose deaths has occurred across the nation during the pandemic. The New York Times reports that drug deaths have risen by 13% over the last year. Vermont may be losing ground in its hard-won gains in recovery and overdose deaths.

But Claire is getting the help she needs, thanks to a visit by a caseworker from Lund who teams with our state child welfare system. She was screened for substance misuse and helped to reconnect with treatment and other necessary supports. With this support in place, DCF Family Services was also able to close her case, meaning her kids will remain with her – for now.

This past year, 831 parents across the state who were involved with Vermont’s child welfare system were referred to Lund’s Regional Partnership Program for substance misuse screening and case management services. 80% of those parents were able to successfully engage in necessary treatment at the time of the case closure, reducing the need for family disruption and foster care.

Amber was released from prison to Lund’s Residential Treatment Program as part of the State’s decision to release nonviolent incarcerated people from the facility in order to minimize the spread of the virus. Lund’s program has for many years been a state approved alternative to incarceration, providing treatment and allowing mothers to remain with their children at a significant cost savings for Vermont. At Lund, Amber is receiving treatment for the substance use disorder that landed her in prison. She has reunited with her young son, and together they are working towards family recovery. Underlying issues of trauma are finally addressed, along with strong substance use recovery work. She also receives parent education, and her son is receiving early childhood prevention, development and treatment services. As a result of her work at Lund, her son is far less likely to struggle throughout his life due to early adverse childhood experiences. Amber also works with her case manager at Lund to address barriers to their sustained recovery. By helping her to access safe and affordable housing, furthering her formal education and teaching employment and life skills, the odds are greatly increased that this family will thrive, together and independent of costly state supports, when they are ready to reintegrate into the community. 

56 women received residential treatment for their mental health and substance use disorders at Lund. It is the only treatment program in Vermont that allows women to access residential treatment services with their children, which is often a barrier for those who are primary caretakers of young children and need treatment. This family-centered approach, core to Lund’s 130 year mission, delivers results for clients (all 11 babies born in residence to mothers with addiction were born substance-free) and families (83% report feeling more confident as parents). Unlike many states which closed their residential treatment facilities in response to COVID-19, Lund’s programs have kept mothers and children safe and continually engaged in their treatment.

Results like independence from state programs and family preservation are a wise investment because the absence of these services would cost our state exponentially more in increased incarceration, homelessness, child welfare costs, and health care costs. The simple truth is, the cost of their success is far less than the cost of their failure.

Claire and Amber are our neighbors. They represent tens of thousands of others who entered the pandemic already struggling for their independence, to sustain their recoveries, and to keep their families together.

That is why so many Vermonters are asking our legislature and Governor to continue these critical supports. It is not an understatement to say these investments are needed more than ever to protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

Burlington LUND: At Lund, we work to break the cycles of poverty, addiction and abuse by supporting pregnant and parenting teens, young adults, and adoptive families with our integrated, compassionate services. Connect at