As local heroin and other drug use proliferates, fighting abuse by Fulton County youth can prove daunting without the support of parents.
The people behind Healthy Choices Caring Communities (HC3) are on the front line tackling the issue. They say their Community Conversation events across the county are opening the eyes of adults, some of whom still can’t believe alcohol and substance abuse among their children can be all too real.
Begun in late 2012 under HC3’s Alcohol Task Force through the Fulton County Health Department, Community Conversation has been held in the Wauseon, Pike-Delta-York, Archbold, Evergreen, and Fayette school districts. Events are scheduled April 18 at Pike-Delta-York and May 4 at Evergreen. Events in the Archbold, Wauseon, and Fayette school districts are anticipated for fall.
Beth Thomas, HC3 project director, said children are 50 percent less likely to participate in substance abuse if their parents discuss it with them. However, a 2014 county Youth Health Assessment (YHA) revealed that only 29 percent of the county’s parents spoke to their children about underage drinking and drug use in the past month.
“We believe Fulton County parents are under-utilizing their influence by not talking with their kids on an ongoing basis about the dangers of substance use, and by not sharing their expectations about substance use with their kids,” Thomas said.
Over the past 18 months, about 360 parents and other adults have attended five Community Conversation events staged around Fulton County. The events are planned by members of the community where they’re held, including parents, school officials, government officials, law enforcement, and youth organizations. The planners have invited, among other presenters, mental health professionals and community experts, as well as members of families affected by addiction.
“HC3 believes that each Fulton County community is unique, and those stakeholders know their communities and know what the event should focus on,” Thomas said.
HC3 can also provide #WhatsYourChoice, an entertaining youth event held simultaneously with a Community Conversation. Members of the Youth Advisory Council entertain younger students with team building games, activities, and refreshments, and present an influential adult speaker for a short discussion on making positive choices.
According to the 2012 YHA survey, 32 percent of youth questioned said parents provide them with alcohol. In the 2014 survey that number decreased to 26 percent.
“We credit this decrease to the efforts of our coalition members in educating parents on the negative effects of drinking alcohol prior to age 21,” Thomas said.
Many parents attend a Community Conversation unaware of just how prevalent alcohol and substance abuse is in Fulton County, she said.
I think that’s the value, to help parents truly understand what’s happening in our neighborhoods. I believe its common for parents to think it’s not their child,” she said.
“Our goal would be to share with them that there’s the possibility that abuse occurs in all our small communities. It’s a common parent experience to think this happens somewhere else, (but) it is happening in all of our communities.”
Wauseon Police Chief Keith Torbet has spoken to parents at all of the Wauseon Community Conversation events. He routinely provides information about drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and answers questions.
“I don’t believe people in the community realize that this is not just a big city problem,” he said. “Sooner or later, someone is going to offer (their children) something that is illegal or just plain wrong, and they have to have the tools to say no. We’re there to give them ideas and support.”
The message of the public forums is that what parents say to their children does matter to them, said Sharon Morr, director of corporate and community health promotion at Fulton County Health Center, and the HC3 Coalition chair.
And she believes that message to parents is getting through.
“It does matter what we say to our kids. Our health behavioral risks show our kids in Fulton County do think what their parents say does have an impact on them,” she said.
Morr said while parents still express genuine surprise at the amount of alcohol and substance abuse among the county’s youth, the growing, widespread use of heroin may be opening their eyes a little wider.
“They’re seeing more issues in our community. I think slowly we’re getting the message across,” she said. “We’re trying to bring that message home to parents. This is happening in what we consider good families, to good kids.
“Talk to your kids. It’s just that simple, and important, because it does matter.”
Torbet agreed that during his presentations parents can seem genuinely surprised at local alcohol, drug, and tobacco statistics regarding youth.
“Some parents think all the kids do it, and the others don’t think it exists,” he said.
Fulton County is fortunate to have a low usage rate, Torbet said. Eighty percent of local youth don’t imbibe.
“We need to help the 20 percent that are experimenting to say no or get the help they need to stay off of it,” he said. “The biggest thing is, how do you start the conversation. A lot of parents feel awkward about that. (But) all the studies show that, believe it or not, the kids do listen to their parents. And we know if we get the parents involved we have a better chance of reaching the kids.”
For full report, go to HC3Partnership.org, choose “Resources,” then “Youth Health Assessment.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.