Sheriff Tom Dart, Bill O’Donnell Receive TASC Leadership Awards; Access to Healthcare and Recovery Highlighted at Annual Event

(Chicago) – TASC held its 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 10, honoring Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and entrepreneur Bill O’Donnell for their advocacy on behalf of people with mental health and substance use disorders.

“Sheriff Dart has called national attention to the injustice of using county jails to house people with mental health conditions,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez in presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Award. “He has supported Medicaid enrollment and other activities to ensure continuity of care for people detained at the Cook County Jail.”

To the applause of more than 300 guests at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Dart reported that 12,000 people have successfully signed up for insurance at the jail via the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “People who never had insurance now have insurance,” he said. “It is absolutely amazing what this collective work has done.”

Since 2013, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, working with TASC and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, has enabled individuals detained at the jail to apply for health insurance. Prior to the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, the vast majority of people entering U.S. jails lacked insurance, hindering their access to treatment for chronic substance use and mental health conditions that often contribute to rearrest.

The prevalence of these conditions in the justice system is not new, Dart observed. “These are issues that have been around for a while. And it’s with partnerships, working with TASC, that we’ve been able to make incredible change.”

TASC Public Voice Award Recipient Bill O’Donnell noted that he might well have gone to jail for his behavior while he was in the throes of addiction. Coming from a family driven to “achieve, achieve, achieve,” O’Donnell was a successful businessman who became addicted to alcohol and cocaine in the 1970s.

“It wasn’t until I got into treatment the second or third time… that I ever asked myself the question, ‘Why is it that I even need the marijuana, the booze, the coke, to change the way I felt?’” O’Donnell recalled. “Recovery and life and awareness is an inside job. You get can get help, you can get direction, you can get love, you can get guidance—but it’s an inside job.”

O’Donnell went on to found Sierra Tucson in 1983, an internationally-recognized treatment center that was among the first to involve family members in the recovery process.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca praised O’Donnell for his openness and high-profile voice for recovery. “Twenty-three million are in long-term recovery in this country and it’s still the most stigmatized illness,” said Palanca. “Bill was one of the first corporate leaders to speak openly about his addiction. He is a powerful voice for recovery.”

The value of helping one another was highlighted in two videos accompanying speakers’ remarks. Dart introduced a video depicting personal stories of people who now have health insurance thanks to enrollment efforts at the jail, and Rodriguez presented a video featuring participants in Winners’ Circles, which are peer-led recovery support groups for people who have been involved in the justice system.

TASC has been engaged in initiatives at the intersection of health and social justice since 1976, explained TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright. “I believe that our highest human calling is to help others—directly, if possible, and if not possible, to support those who do, with whatever means and talents available to us,” said Curtwright, who is the associate vice provost for academic and enrollment services at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Among other dignitaries attending TASC’s event were previous honorees, including Gino DiVito, retired appellate court justice; Melody Heaps, TASC founder and president emeritus; and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Chairing TASC’s 2015 event committee was John Zielinski, vice president and financial advisor at William Blair, who, along with other volunteers and generous donors, guided TASC’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. Zielinski extended special thanks to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the presenting sponsor of the event, along with numerous other generous sponsors and raffle prize donors.

“TASC is successful because we work together,” said Rodriguez. “Thanks to science and treatment parity, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the efforts of TASC and our community partners, and especially thanks to all of you, more and more men and women are finding the treatment, the support, and the hope and tenacity needed to build and strengthen those delicate roots into lifetimes of recovery.”

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Award Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree Bill O'Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez. Photo by Uk Studio.

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon in Chicago. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Honoree Bill O’Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC's 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photo by Uk Studio.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC’s 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photos by Uk Studio.

Parental Addiction Treatment Improves Child Welfare Outcomes: TASC President Pam Rodriguez at Capitol Hill Briefing

(Chicago) – TASC President Pam Rodriguez shared highlights of Illinois’ successful Recovery Coach program at a December 3 Capitol Hill briefing focused on issues and solutions in child welfare reform.

In partnership with the offices of U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Children and Family Futures hosted the briefing, entitled The Elephant in the Room: Access to Substance Abuse Treatment—A Cornerstone of Child Welfare Reform. With an audience encompassing Congressional staff, policymakers, and child welfare advocates, the briefing highlighted the role of substance use disorders in the child welfare system and what works to better serve affected children and their families.

Rodriguez presented lessons and outomes from Illinois’ Recovery Coach program, which addresses substance use disorders among parents whose children have been removed from custody due to substance-related maltreatment. The program began in 2000, funded through a Title IV-E waiver granted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). TASC has provided services for the Recovery Coach program since its inception in Cook County in 2000, as well as in Madison and St. Clair counties since the program expanded in 2007.

Links between childhood maltreatment and delinquency. There is growing understanding of the connection between child maltreatment and later delinquency, and the crossover of children who are involved in both child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Young people involved in these systems face a host of complex challenges, which may include trauma, educational difficulties, mental health conditions, sexual abuse, and the instability of group homes or foster care placement.

TASC works with DCFS to help stabilize children in care and reduce young people’s likelihood of becoming involved in the justice system.

Intensive outreach and case management. Through the Recovery Coach program, TASC works with the parent, child welfare caseworker, and alcohol/drug treatment agency to remove barriers to treatment, engage the parent in treatment, provide outreach to re-engage the parent if necessary, and provide ongoing support to the parent and family through the duration of the child welfare case.

As Rodriguez explained in the briefing, the program draws on research pointing to the complex needs of parents involved in child welfare and justice systems. For example, a 2014 needs assessment report by the Center for Children and Family Futures for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention synthesized hundreds of Family Drug Court surveys, stakeholder interviews, and more than 2,500 technical assistance requests from all 50 states.

Among Family Drug Courts, services for parents were consistently identified as priorities. Systems must recognize and respond to complex and multiple needs arising from trauma, dual-diagnosis, and domestic violence; responses include engagement and retention strategies, recovery supports, and serving parents in medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The report also found that sustainability of funding and cross-system knowledge emerge as consistently-cited needs among jurisdictions and stakeholders.

Rodriguez noted that the Recovery Coach program’s success comes from not only the direct services to parents, but also the understanding of and attention to the cross-systems issues that influence outcomes. Further, the program provides a response to the opiate crisis that is affecting child welfare systems.

“With the rise in heroin use across the country, even more children are being removed from their homes and placed in foster care,” said Rodriguez. “By working with systems to address complex issues around addiction, programs like Recovery Coach and Family Drug Courts make it possible to safely return many affected children.”

Effectiveness and cost savings. A 2012 in-depth program evaluation by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that parents with a TASC recovery coach were more likely to access treatment, and children whose parents had recovery coaches were more likely to be safely reunified with their parents.

Furthermore, children whose parents had recovery coaches were significantly less likely to be associated with a subsequent juvenile arrest.

In addition, according to the March 2015 semi-annual progress report released by DCFS, the Recovery Coach program has generated more than $10 million in savings for the State of Illinois since the program began in 2000. These savings come from significantly higher rates of family reunification, resulting in fewer youth in the system, as well as quicker reunification, resulting in fewer days spent in foster care.

TASC is a statewide, independent case management and care coordination agency in Illinois, annually serving 27,000 individuals referred by criminal justice, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems.