Voinovich School will continue involvement in newly expanded START program

Marilyn Icsman
February 21, 2019

The Ohio Sobriety, Treatment, and Reducing Trauma (START) program is expanding to 17 more counties, and Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs will continue to collaborate with The Ohio State University to evaluate the program as it grows.

Ohio START is an intervention program providing specialized victim services, such as intensive trauma counseling, for children who have suffered from parental drug use. It also provides drug treatment for parents. Launched in 2017, the program is administered by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO). The expansion was funded by the offices of former Ohio Attorney General, now Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The Voinovich School, along with The Ohio State University’s College of Social Work, have studied the effectiveness of the START program. Voinovich School assistant team leader Margaret Hutzel said the Voinovich School assists OSU faculty with implementation, process and outcome evaluation. The evaluation includes assessments based on child welfare caseworker surveys, document reviews, comparisons of staff before and after training, interviews with staff such as child welfare case managers, family peer mentors, child welfare administrators and behavioral health providers implementing Ohio START, and interviews with parents participating in Ohio START.

Data from Ohio’s Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) will also be used to compare participating START counties to determine if the program is affecting the length of children’s cases or the rates of family reunification and re-referrals for child welfare investigations.

Hutzel said that to date, the assessments have shown that trainings arranged by PCSAO for the staff of Ohio START have been effective learning tools.

“Additionally, the evaluation is showing positive system of care change with increased communication and collaboration between child welfare and behavioral health,” Hutzel said.

The program includes a peer mentor for parents struggling with a substance use disorder. The mentor has experience with substance use disorder and, often, child welfare involvement, Hutzel said. This support system helps parents achieve sobriety and become better parents.

Because of the success of the program so far, Hutzel said she supports the county expansion.

“The expansion is a great step, because the model is solid,” Hutzel said.

DeWine endorsed the expansion in a press release and said he looks forward to seeing success from more families as the Ohio START model is implemented.

“The focused, individualized support families in the Ohio START program receive can truly make a difference, and I am pleased that even more counties will start offering this program,” DeWine said in the release. “The dedication of the case workers, family peer mentors, and others has supported parents struggling with addiction and helped keep families together.”

The program originally served Athens, Brown, Clinton, Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Gallia, Hamilton, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pickaway, Ross, Vinton, and Warren counties. New Ohio START counties are Ashtabula, Butler, Carroll, Delaware, Erie, Hardin, Lorain, Mercer, Morrow, Ottawa, Richland, Seneca, Stark, Summit, and Trumbull. The expansion will bring the total number of counties served to 34.

Read more about the START program here.