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Promoting Recovery

Women with Children and Youth

Providing treatment and recovery supports that take into account the family context is especially important for women with co-occurring disorders who have children and for youth with these disorders. In addition, in order to address their multiple needs, treatment should be provided as part of a comprehensive, integrated package that coordinates care across multiple systems.

Women with Children

Significant numbers of women who have co-occurring disorders are also pregnant or parents. For many, their role as mothers is central and a major source of identity and self-worth. It also can be a primary motivation for entering treatment and achieving recovery. Their children may live with them, or not, but either way it is essential that treatment and services take into account both:

  • the needs and issues of the women in their role as parents
  • the developmental and other needs of the children, so as to minimize future health and behavioral health problems.

Treatment and services should be family-centered, comprehensive, and multidisciplinary to ensure that the full-range of needs of both mothers and children are addressed. Programs are most effective when they incorporate the following strategies:

  • Identify and build on each woman's strengths, including her desire to be a good mother to her children
  • Offer trauma-informed treatment and services in recognition of high rates of violence, abuse and victimization
  • Acknowledge women's roles as mothers in all service delivery activities, including assessment, individual and group therapies, treatment, discharge planning, and after care and recovery supports
  • Offer program components that teach parenting skills, help women reduce the stress associated with parenting, and improve interactions between parent and child
  • Provide age-specific interventions and support services for children (whether infants, pre-school, elementary school or adolescents)
  • Directly provide or link women with ancillary services to help them sustain recovery, including legal services, housing assistance, childcare, education and employment and health care
  • Build healthy support networks, including with extended family, where possible


Youth with co-occurring disorders typically are struggling with a mixture of mental health problems, alcohol and other drug abuse problems, health problems, immaturities, broken relationships with families, disrupted schooling, and involvement with the criminal justice system. These problems affect the entire family and cannot be effectively addressed without including everyone who plays a key role in the youth's life. Likewise, the values and attitudes of the family about mental health and substance use influence how youth think about themselves and their ability to seek help and respond to treatment.

Though many youth with co-occurring disorders are estranged or have significant tension with their families, most return to their families after treatment. Family involvement and support are absolutely essential to their being able to achieve and sustain recovery. As such, the culture and beliefs of the family as well as their strengths and problems should inform the design of treatment and recovery support services.

In order to effectively engage in treatment and achieve recovery, youth need:

  • To be listened to and treated with respect
  • To be empowered to make decisions and choices about their treatment plan
  • To receive care that is age-appropriate, addresses their full range of needs and is integrated across systems
  • To learn coping skills for handling their illness
  • To be able to access peer supports, and to be given opportunities to turn their experience into positive growth, such as by becoming peer mentors
  • To have the support and understanding of their family

In order to effectively support their children's recovery, families need:

  • Clear and accessible information about the warning signs and symptoms of co-occurring disorders, treatment, and recovery and support resources.
  • To be treated with respect and included in the treatment process so that they can provide input about service choices
  • Access to therapy, peer supports and other services
  • Assistance in developing new strategies for interacting with and supporting their child, including how to recognize and respond to signs of relapse, set realistic boundaries and enforce rules, and support progress

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