A Name Changed, a Stronger Voice
“Fifteen years ago, I could not envision a time when leaders of major national medical organizations would gather at the White House, as they did last September, to discuss initiatives developed by NACoA. Fifteen years ago, I dared not hope that NACoA would one day be the vigorous voice for children that we are today. . . . No, fifteen years ago I was just praying that someone, somewhere, would notice, listen, and maybe print a little article about our new organization. I hoped maybe someone might think children of alcoholics were an important population.” – Cathleen Brooks Weiss, a NACoA founder, on the occasion of NACoA’s fifteenth anniversary in 1998
The National Association for Children of Addiction (NACoA), which until this month was called the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), came into existence in February, 1983, and has been the continuous voice for the children across the addiction treatment and recovery fields, faith communities, the medical and mental health fields, and fields of social work and education, since its inception. It has never deviated from its focus of bringing hope and healing to the millions of children suffering from the effects of parental addiction. It has done this through partnering with its over forty affiliate organizations that provide myriad services to foster and support addiction prevention and recovery support in their communities.
The organization has also been known for years as “NACoA: Voice for the Children” and will continue to be. It has been that continuous and strong voice for the millions of children hurt everyday by the chaos and confusion of living with alcoholism or other drug addictions in the family, with a particular emphasis on the affected children.
Recognized in the early 1980s by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Centers for Substance Abuse Prevention and Substance Abuse Treatment as having the top experts in age-appropriate prevention and supportive interventions for this population, NACoA partnered with these federal agencies to provide critical expertise so that the most effective prevention and recovery support materials and training could be provided, healing children of addiction while they were still young and vulnerable. NACoA has always known that these children could benefit from educational support that could foster and build their resiliency.
Beyond the work of NACoA’s affiliates and its partnership with federal agencies, NACoA has partnered with leaders in medical education, providers in children and family medical practices, social work education specialists, educators, practicing clergy, and the institutions that train them to develop profession-specific core competencies and educational tools for those who work in systems that touch children’s lives every day. The goals of these competency development projects and the educational programs and tools that follow, are to help bring awareness of the silent suffering children to these critical influencers who provide services to them and too often miss the children’s underlying and primary issues, and to instill in these influencers a willingness and ability to address the needs of these children. The ultimate goal is to make it commonplace for these professional systems to educate their colleagues to understand that children of addiction who are troubled or in trouble, need—possibly first and foremost—recognition of their silent struggle and the healing they need to recover from their home environment of chronic emotional stress. NACoA’s reach continues to grow, and this goal is now part of the work of our international affiliates in Canada, Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, and Slovenia.
In the first decade of NACoA’s work, it held regional and national conferences, many in partnership with U.S. Journal Training, Inc (USJT). Those conferences, which awakened many thousands of people to understand their own childhood and their adulthood-related consequences, awakened others to hope for personal recovery. They also taught many thousands of mental health and substance use disorder clinicians about their clients. USJT went on to host NACoA’s twenty-fifth and thirtieth anniversary conferences in Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the programs of each of these conferences always included training about the effects of alcohol and other drug use and about the solutions for helping the children and families to recover and to change the trajectory of their lives.
NACoA: A Voice for the Children
In 2018, NACoA will celebrate its thirty-fifth year as the “Voice for the Children” with a new name: The National Association for Children of Addiction. We have changed one word to further clarify what the organization’s mission, programs, and advocacy work is now and has been throughout its history.
Today, in the face of yet another growing drug epidemic that has captured the public’s attention and the media’s storytelling, NACoA is marshalling its resources and partnering with the leadership of other major organizations in the field of addiction recovery, as it did during the meth and the cocaine and crack epidemics. NACoA continues to acknowledge that the drug epidemic still kills the most people with substance use disorders, devastates the most families, and creates chronic emotional stress in the lives of the most children over more years, changing their brain development and potentially their lives.
We are working with our existing partners to strengthen the impact of our program materials, trainings, and advocacy efforts to bring more attention and healing support to all the children of addiction so that they too can be included in the recovery support legislation and funding that is on the table in our federal and state legislatures. As evidence of the importance of recovery for family members comes slowly to the fore again, we are reminded of Robert Denniston’s column in this space in December 2015. Mr. Denniston, NACoA’s board vice chair, titled his column in that issue, “What’s Old is New Again.” NACoA could do so much more with help from Counselor readers if we all did a piece of the advocating and helped to spread the knowledge base rather than having to repeat what has been known for decades.
Recently, a major report was issued by the Surgeon General on alcohol, drugs, and health—a report discussed by Mr. Denniston in this space in the June 2017 issue. While the report was historical and extraordinary, it missed the greater majority of Americans whose mental and physical health are challenged every day by their attempts to survive in a household with an addicted parent, and who research has made clear will suffer expensive, lifetime mental and physical distress as a direct result of the adversity which they face every day unless meaningful help and support comes from caring and responsible adults within their environments. Their unrecognized and unaddressed adversity today will swamp the physical and mental health systems of tomorrow, and to facilitate their being trapped in the generational transmission of addiction in their young adult years. This is a public health problem at the highest level. Imagine what could happen if we all did what we could to make both the plight and the hope for children of addiction understood by just two colleagues, sufficiently motivating them to step up to the challenge. Imagine what could happen if each of those colleagues helped two more to reach that level of understanding and commitment.
When will we take a good look at the pain of these children? When will we acknowledge the data that clearly shows when the family members (including the children) receive recovery services, there is more and healthier recovery for the addicted person, less family violence and disintegration, more family reunification, and lower health care costs for all members of the family? America has a major opioid and heroin epidemic; it also has a major societal neglect problem—both within the addiction field and society. “Our children are our future” is a slogan often mouthed in America, but who is marching for those most at risk—in the broader society and in the recovering community—so that they can have the future a civilized society should be willing to provide? There are many ways Counselor readers can join this “march.” We invite you to visit www.nacoa.org, sign up to receive our monthly e-newsletter, and review the opportunities to help. NACoA welcomes all those who would like to help strengthen NACoA’s “Voice for the Children” until the children can find their own.