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January/February 2001Vol. 2, No. 1Vermont Foster Families Trained to Prevent Substance Abuse

Alcohol and other drug problems account for more than two-thirds of cases handled by Vermont's Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. To prevent a cycle of addiction and other problems in these families, a program was created to place children and youth in foster homes that could serve as models for healthy, substance-free lifestyles.

The federally funded, 3-year program, called CHAMP (Creating Healthy Adolescents, a Model Prevention Project), was a completely voluntary program targeted to foster parents. Project activities included:

  • Foster parent training and support
  • Developing CHAMP homes
  • Statewide education and awareness building.

When the project ended in September 2000, it had established 35 CHAMP homes in three districts, which were equipped to provide healthy-living foster care for children from substance abusing homes, or teens demonstrating early substance problems. Besides completing advanced training, CHAMP foster home providers were required to:

  • Communicate clear rules and expectations regarding the use of substances
  • Understand how they model behavior and ideas for their foster children
  • Be willing to actively pursue training about the impact of substance abuse in families
  • Reduce environmental risks at home (locking up medications, using non-aerosol products, prohibiting smoking in the home, etc.)
  • Improve personal health habits (begin or increase exercise, learn new stress management skills, stop smoking).

CHAMP sponsored several specialized trainings for foster families. The "CARES" program, or CHAMP Addiction and Resiliency Education Series, covered topics such as drug identification, the impact of children witnessing violence, and communication skills. Concurrent sessions for children and youth included age-appropriate, prevention learning activities. The CHAMP Project also developed a practical 10-hour core curriculum to train foster parents about the impact of substance abuse and child abuse on children, as well as setting personal improvement goals.

Former Project Director Jean McCandless explained that some of the pieces of CHAMP are continuing through the State's Healthy Living Foster Care program. For example, an informative newsletter for licensed foster parents, called The Champion, has been discontinued but will be replaced by monthly health education mailings. The newsletter featured American Heart Association recipes, hiking locations, safe gun handling, ways to reduce stress, managing sibling rivalry, and other "healthy living" topics. Content from CHAMP's website also will be incorporated into the Healthy Living Foster Care program's site.

CHAMP's "Help the Kids, Stop Smoking" initiative, which has been running for 6 months, also will continue another year. The initiative aims to help foster parents quit the habit by sending them to smoking cessation groups, offering free nicotine patches, providing peer counseling, and sending out "do-it-yourself" information. "Most of the participants are from the districts that participated in other [CHAMP] trainings," noted McCandless.

Response to the CHAMP project was very positive and McCandless hopes that new funding can be secured to resurrect the project. "You've never seen such a happy evaluator. Participants continued to be pleased throughout the life of the project," said McCandless. CHAMP families helped themselves by leading healthier lifestyles and helped their foster children by creating a healthier home for them.

Contact information:
Jean McCandless
Community Services Chief
Vermont Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services
103 S. Main St.
Waterbury, VT 05671-2401
Phone: 802-241-2143