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Drugs and Alcohol Affect Family Engagement

By Dr. Joni Samples

Last week I worked with groups of parents and educators to develop a plan for how they could involve more parents in their schools. Specifically we talked about building trust and creating an atmosphere where parents and schools can work together on projects that lead to learning. Great stuff and fun.

beerThis week I worked with a group from drug and alcohol services talking about family engagement. In many states there are specific programs dedicated to children and their families who are dealing with drug, alcohol, and other controlled substances.  In at least one state, these services are directly placed in the schools. In other areas the program works though mental health and in others through social services. So how is this professional group different than a school group or a parent organization asking questions about how to help kids and families with school and learning?

For one thing, this group is dealing with some very troubling problems—parents who are unavailable when they are drinking or using, abuse, lack of connection, and a variety of assorted other issues. I think you might be able to visualize such a household. It’s not a comfortable sight yet, these are parents who have children in schools and children who are just as in need as any other child if not more so of a parent being engaged with their learning. The group had some serious questions about how to reach these parents.

I’d like to tell you this was easy, that there are easy solutions to this one. I can make a number of suggestions that work when a parent is not using or abusing, but when they are I can’t think of many suggestions that work. For one thing, if there were easy answers we’d all be sharing them and using those answers today, right now.  The other reason I can’t see answers easily is because I came from a family of alcohol abuse. I was not one of the kids who got in trouble, in fact, I was just the opposite. I was the good child who rarely had any issue, who studied and made good grades, yet I know very personally how addiction affects a child as well as the many reasons why someone in the midst of addiction is not going to show up at school.

So how to help and what can be done? This is an article in which I’m asking for suggestions. Usually I have some. This time I’d like to ask you. I did the best I could with discussing how family engagement normally works. When a parent or the adult in the household is clean and sober, these suggestions work well. If the parent/adult is still in the midst of addiction, we first need to concentrate on sobriety. Other than working with 12 Step Programs and rehab is there anything else that is working?

In many cases I know that the teacher becomes the parent substitute. They child finds comfort in the stability of the school and the teachers. I did. In others the child finds no comfort and this is another place where he or she is failing. Acting out becomes acute both at home and at school. Visits to schools by the parents aren’t going to happen, and visits home are greeted with hostility or the door never opens. So much shame and so much blame and so much pain.

This is a difficult topic for me and many others. I’d like to hear comments, and I’d imagine there are some others of the readers that would be grateful for some help in this area as well. So please reply and my thanks.

Posted on October 6, 2012 by Dr. Joni Samples

Dr. Joni Samples is the Chief Academic Officer for Family Friendly Schools, hosts the monthly National Conversation on Family Engagement, and is the author of six books on Parent Involvement including the Parent Playbook series featuring learning activities for parents to do with their children. The activities are both fun and matched to the Common Core Standards. A lifelong educator and Mom of four, Dr. Joni knows firsthand how parent involvement in children’s lives means success for both the child and the parent. She can be reached at or www.familyfriendlyschools.

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Tags: *Parent Engagement at Home , *School-Family Partnership, Empathy, Low-income/ At risk

Posted October 7, 2012 by Joni
Hi Monica,
It does help and it helps because it's very similar to what I suggest in our workshops. We really encourage a building of trust, a personal relationship between schools and family members. You can't deal with academic issues until the trust is built. You can't deal with sobriety until the trust is built. I really get that at a variety of levels. Thanks. Joni 

Posted October 6, 2012 by Monica Huffer
Hello Dr Samples, after reading your article 'Drugs and Alcohol Affect Family Engagement' on the Parent involvement website, I would like to share my experience with this. I am employed in a small low socio- economic school in Australia as Family School Partnership Convenor. I have worked with several parents with alcoholism and drug dependency and everything you discussed was so true. What I found was that building social capital with these parents and making them feel like the school community really cares about them and their children, makes a world of difference with family engagement. Offering them confidential referrals to program's that exist within the community really shows them that we care. This has to be done by treading carefully and building trust via other avenues like asking them to be part of a Care group that cooks for other families in need. This then gives them responsibility and they feel that they are contributing to the school community. Once this trust is developed you can offer them assistance for their own set of problems. Hope this helps. Monica 


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