Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Prepping Parents for Straight Talk on Drugs and Alcohol

Oak Park Journal

Talking to their teens about drugs can be difficult for some parents. Starting next month, parents in Oak Park and River Forest will receive some help to make those conversations a little easier for them and their kids.

The first in an ongoing series of "parent cafes" will launch in September. The cafes are among the ideas that sprouted from the drug and alcohol abuse forums held over the summer and hosted by the Citizens' Council at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 N. Scoville.

The cafes are for parents to get together and talk about substance abuse issues, said Lisa Lowry, an OPRF parent and a licensed social worker. She's coordinating the parent groups. She described the cafes as a 'how-to' dialogue for parents.

Volunteers have been training in recent weeks to facilitate the groups. Lowry, a parent of two OPRF students, said the dates are still to be determined as well as venues. The first series of caf├ęs will be in a public venue, and the hope, Lowry said, is for parents to host smaller groups themselves at their homes or other places.

"This is really meant to promote better parent and teen dialogue around those issues, which are tough issues to talk about," she said. "We want to empower parents to not feel helpless."

The cafes will address related issues, such as school policies concerning drugs and alcohol. The public sessions will take place in churches, the libraries and other venues interested in hosting. Another goal, said Mimi Skapek, of the Citizens' Council, is to maintain the momentum that started with the substance abuse forum at OPRF in May.

That event drew roughly 400 people to hear speakers discuss the drug and alcohol problem among many middle school and high school aged students in the community. The Citizens' Council, an OPRF-school board approved group of parents and non-parents, launched their anti-drug effort earlier this year. The members wanted to do something about the problem after hearing from school officials at their February meeting about student drug use.

The council hosted a public roundtable discussion in June as a follow-up to the drug forum. That event drew about 100 people, all brainstorming for solutions. Ideas included closing the campus to all students during lunchtime, hiring more campus drug counselors, and finding ways for parents to communicate more effectively. Several people volunteered to join action teams following the roundtable, hoping to turn those ideas into action plans.

"This is about continuing that conversation that started after the forum," Skapek said of the parent cafes. "The parents are really leading this. They want to see this happen."

Skapek added that the cafes are just one solution the parents are working on. Lowry and two other parents are leading action teams focusing on initiatives to address the high school and middle schools. Other teams are working on solutions that include the Oak Park Township and local law enforcement.

Lowry is not a member of the council but volunteered to be an action team leader after attending the spring forums. Lowry, however, said she's been concerned about the substance abuse problem at OPRF for at least the last decade. She also is not a clinical drug counselor but works with kids dealing with such issues as attention deficit disorder. But some of those kids have had substance abuse problems, Lowry said - and most of those clients were from Oak Park and River Forest.

"I've been frustrated for a lot of years and I'm very energized that people seem more ready for a public conversation," Lowry said. "OPRF is a great school doing a lot of great things, but this one aspect just needs to be dealt with."

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