February 2023
Project SCOPE logo.

More than 200 Minnesota professionals, mostly K-12 school personnel, learned the latest techniques to support children and families affected by the opioid epidemic through a recent training series facilitated by the Institute on Community Integration.

The training was part of Project SCOPE (Supporting Children of the OPioid Epidemic), a national initiative focused on supporting children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and/or neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). The series aims to build a community of practice among early childhood providers, but also connects other professionals and family members to help promote understanding about the effects of opioids on child development and provide a wide array of support services. A large number of attendees were from greater Minnesota, outside of the Minneapolis metro area.

“It just brought to the forefront that I need to consider trauma and the experiences of parents and children prior to my meeting them,” one attendee said of the training.

Several participants said the series brought them new perspectives on the opioid epidemic, causing them to think differently about how best to reach families from diverse backgrounds, said Drake Bauer, project coordinator of ICI’s work on the SCOPE series.

The series includes sessions on how opioid exposure affects child development, and on strategies for better understanding trauma and healing in historically marginalized communities. It also explores recovery planning and positive support strategies for children experiencing behavioral challenges. The series used the ECHO™ virtual training model, or Extension for Community Health Outcomes. The model promotes health equity by building a community of practice to share expertise, reduce disparities, and increase access to care or services.

Jennifer Hall-Lande led ICI’s work on Project SCOPE and often references Sanjeev Arora, a liver disease specialist who developed the model in an effort to educate primary care physicians about the early signs of liver failure. His model, which prevented many deaths, incorporates technology, best practices, family story, and data to monitor outcomes.

“Knowledge needs to be shared. It shouldn’t just be in university settings or large cities. It is our role to share our knowledge and also to learn from the community,” Hall-Lande said. “The opioid crisis in America is a public health emergency, and it only increased during the pandemic. The long-term developmental effects that schools are seeing today are significant, but there are a lot of things we can do very early to intervene.”

That begins with recognizing signs of developmental delays, she said, pointing to a host of free materials at www.cdc.gov/actearly , including mobile apps and trackers to help professionals monitor developmental milestones.

“This work is about building knowledge and skills in working with families experiencing addiction. It is not about judging parents. Recovery is hard work and it goes day by day,” Hall-Lande said. “So, we try to recognize this and to bridge the worlds of healthcare and education.”