Welcome to Tough Kids and Substance Abuse!
An innocent call to a Winnipeg school from a foster home provided the impetus that brought this curriculum into being. An eleven-year-old boy suspected of having Fetal Alcohol Effects needed to find a very special school program. Heavily involved in the street culture of Winnipeg, he had been using solvents for many years. His social worker wanted to know if our school division had a program to help this child out of the drug and street culture while he learned how to read. Could the school help?
This boy and his needs were the catalyst for Tough Kids and Substance Abuse. We want to thank him for bringing a program that we believe is truly special to realization. In a unique collaboration, we brought together a classroom teacher, an addiction prevention specialist, a disability specialist and an artist to meet the very specialized needs of young, street wise youth (we called them “Tough Kids”) who were intellectually impaired and at high risk for addiction to alcohol, drugs and solvents. After three years of experimentation and a lot of discussion, we believe our program is now concrete enough to be effective and does not “talk down” to our kids.
Not too long ago service providers believed people with intellectual impairments were incapable of having the knowledge of or gaining access to alcohol or drugs. The few who struggled with substance abuse were moved into homes with more supervision. In other cases, they were simply ignored. As community standards evolve, young people with intellectual impairments have become more fully integrated into a wider range of community based activities. However this means more young people with intellectual impairment are at higher risk of becoming involved in alcohol and drug use, gangs and other unhealthy lifestyles. It is important to provide them with a substance awareness program which best supports their skills and needs and treats them as young adults, not young children.
Children and youth with FAS/E process information and learn differently than the general population. We have found a need for a curriculum that provides them with supports to help them live independently in the community. Unfortunately, many of these youth live in high risk situations such as group homes, families affected by substance addiction and alone on the streets. They are potential targets for illegal activities; these kids have access to alcohol, drugs and gangs and often don’t fully appreciate the detrimental effects of these activities on their lives. They need an addiction awareness program that provides concrete information in a format that does not treat them like children. Tough Kids and Substance Abuse is designed to offer teachers, social workers and youth care workers a program that targets three areas of education: the effects of alcohol and drugs on the body, the criminal implications of alcohol and drugs, and safety planning in case of emergency, and is divided into four units. The first unit is designed as an assessment tool and also gives the students a vocabulary to allow them to speak about substance abuse. The second unit gives the students the opportunity to learn about the internal workings of the body. Students learn about how alcohol and drugs affect the various organs. This section is designed to de-mystify the body and provide clear information of how alcohol and drugs affect specific organs over time. In our pilot groups, students were eager to understand the inner workings of their bodies and were often surprised to discover that alcohol and drugs damaged their health. Most had no idea how the body worked.
The next section helps the students deal with their feelings and to establich positive behaviour when reacting to emotions. For many, having a more positive role model to follow allows them to better deal with others and find poitive outlets for their feelings other than turning to substance abuse. Most of our students didn’t know what to do when faced by a situation that made them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
We found it necessary to help each student identify a number of safe places in their neighbourhood where they could get help in an emergency. So we designed the final section of the program to give students the skills they need to find help in an emergency. We were surprised that a number of students knew family members who had died of drug and alcohol overdoses.As well, the program worked to change the students’ negative perceptions of people in uniform by bringing them into contact with police officers and other emergency personnel in their community.
This section of the program also helps students better understand the criminal aspects of alcohol and drug use. Surprisingly, very few students knew that various types of drugs were illegal or that there were severe legal consequences to being caught with these drugs. Students enjoyed the role-playing and activities targeted to reduce the effect of peer pressure in their lives while teaching them how to make healthy choices about drug and alcohol use.
Tough Kids and Substance Abuse is designed to be offered as either a full program or delivered in sections or parts. The program is easily adaptable to a classroom or community setting and can be delivered by either teachers or community workers. Feel free to copy, borrow or adapt any portion of the program to best suit your classroom needs. Call or write and let us know what worked, what didn’t and how you adapted the program. We would love to hear from you.
We believe students with FAS, FAE and other cognitive disabilities have a great deal to offer to their communities, their families and to themselves. We hope this program will provide students with the information and vocabulary they need to make the healthiest choices possible. We must always foster a sense of hope and resiliency in every young person as we help them on their journey through life. We invite you, the reader, to join them in that journey.
Along the way there have been many individuals and groups that have provided this project with much needed support. First and foremost, we would like to thank the sponsoring agencies that provided us with the time to meet, talk and develop this manual. Our thanks go to Winnipeg School Division #1, The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and West Region Child and Family Services. Special thanks as well go to the Interagency FAS/E Program in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which provided important initial support and encouragement.
We would also like to thank our funder and sponsors for helping us develop our piles of papers and post-it notes into a readable, shareable tool. Thanks go to a generous grant from the Community Council of Manitoba Inc. and the technical advice and support from the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.
In particular, we would like to acknowledge the advice and support of a number of people who offered their help along the way. They include Roberta Coulter, Sherrie Palmer, Judy Hill, Marlene Harlock, Carolyn Hobson, Kendell Neufeld, Ian Stewart, Jeff Regier-Loepkky, Leah Brown, Larry Frykas, Blair St. Germaine and Dianne Burnett. We especially would like to thank our families for their patience and support while we wrestled with this project.
Finally, and most of all, we would like to thank the students in our pilot groups who taught us so much about their issues, contributed their own ideas and suggestions and shared so much of their lives with us. We wish them all well in building a safe and satisfying future.
Copies of TOUGH KIDS AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE can be ordered from:|
The William Potoroka Memorial Library, 1031 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, CANADA, R3G 0R8
TEL: (204) 944-6233, FAX: (204) 772-0225