Local preschool helps families impacted by heroin

Local preschool helps families impacted by heroin (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A local preschool focuses on children who have been severely abused and neglected. Nearly half of its students have been exposed to a parent's substance abuse. As the heroin epidemic creates a bigger demand for counseling and treatment of these tiny victims, the Therapeutic Interagency Preschool is changing lives.

Brad Tussey thought he had the perfect home, with mom, dad, and a smart little boy, but then Brad started noticing things going missing, like his son's scooter and his TV. “It started out with alcohol. She had a mental illness, and it manifested into heroin,” said Tussey. The heroin epidemic hit the small family hard. “You have a job, you have a life, you have a two-parent household, and the very next day, it's just you and your son,” said Tussey. Brad's little boy was just four when he saw his mother taken away in an ambulance.

Dr. Daniel Nelson of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center said, “If a parent is overdosing, and a child is there, they experience tremendous crisis.” Dr. Nelson says children of the heroin crisis often end up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He treats these tiny victims at the Therapeutic Interagency Preschool (TIP) at the hospital.

TIP is funded through several sources, and it's a place where young children can get preschool education alongside treatment. These young victims may need psychiatric treatment, occupational therapy, and help with speech and language development. “We really focus on language skills which are essential for them to do the trauma treatment, learning to cope with stresses, but also learning how to tell their story,” said Nelson.

Brad's son couldn't speak at all after his trauma until he and his father both got help at TIP. Brad says it took 5 months for his son to open up. “Once he opened up, he released all of his emotions, his anger, he cried. we both cried. That was the breaking point of him succeeding,” said Tussey.

Doctors say early intervention is key to help children process their anger, loss, even guilt, and also learn where to look for nurturing role models. “This is at a time in a child's development when their relationship with adults is really critical in terms of them knowing I'm going to be okay, I'm going to be cared for,” said Nelson, who adds getting this type of help early can help children grow up less likely to need special classrooms or end up in the penal system.

Now Brad's son helps with chores. He loves to read and go to school. Life is different since TIP and since Brad fought for and won sole custody of his son. “The judge said you're a devoted father, and you've done a really good job, and to me it was better than winning the lottery,” said Tussey. Now he’s in control of his son's future in the type of family *they* get to create together.

There is a waiting list at TIP because space and funding barriers stand in the way of getting this type of help for more children.

The good news is there's also a TIP program in Butler County, and the model is also being copied in other states.

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