While several organizations focus on preventing alcohol addiction, Scottsdale-based PITCH4KIDZ prioritizes intervention and the children experiencing trauma from a parent who is addicted to alcohol.
PITCH4KIDZ is a non-profit organization aimed at providing integrative trauma treatment for children’s healing and does that by offering psycho-educational programs. The organization provides this focus because one in four children live in a family with a parent addicted to alcohol, according to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.
“We are there to teach skills and tools, we are not doing therapy with the kids,” PITCH4KIDZ Co-founder and Executive Director Stacey Beck said,
She was married to a Major League Baseball pitcher, who died in 2007 because of an alcohol addiction.
While at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. for her husband’s treatment, her two daughters participated in a four-day workshop for children growing up with a family member struggling with addiction.
After her husband’s death, Ms. Beck’s youngest daughter told her “daddy can’t die without helping somebody else.”
“As a parent of kids who has an addictive parent, I can tell you it is very scary,” Ms. Beck said. “I did a really good job of hiding information and trying to insulate them and protect them.”
Ms. Beck wanted to use her experiences to help other families and modeled PITCH4KIDZ after the Betty Ford Center. The organization provides a three-day program like the one her daughters attended.
Ms. Beck had a five-day professional and resident training at the Betty Ford Center to learn how to work with the children. She also earned a master’s degree in counseling.
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation data indicates eight out of 10 patients experience dramatic improvements while 80 percent of patients reported improved family relationships, better mental health and an enhanced ability to manage life’s obstacles after treatment.
“The idea for the kid is their wellbeing is not contingent upon their parent’s sobriety,” Ms. Beck said.
She said the programs provide those skills.
“We also give them — in conjunction with their caregivers — a list of safe people they can call and talk to if they are scared or if something happens to mom or dad,” Ms. Beck said.
At PITCH4KIDZ, the concept of addiction is explained to children by comparing it to an allergy. Volunteers act out a story where addiction is always lingering around but treatment and recovery run in with red capes to save the day.
“As soon as treatment and recovery goes away from the person addiction sneaks back in and grabs a hold of the person,” Ms. Beck explained. “That is what relapse is.”
After her daughters learned how to communicate about addiction at the Betty Ford Center, her husband relapsed 48 hours after arriving home.
The girls asked for him and Ms. Beck responded he would not be back until he went back to seek treatment and recovery.
“Thank God I had the language to explain that,” Ms. Beck said
Sarah Tisdon, a prevention specialist for notMYkid, said the key to handling these challenges is to talk to someone and find a healthy way to cope.
If children don’t cope in a healthy way, Ms. Beck said they could become developmentally traumatized.
“Let’s give kids a way to do that so that even if there is something crazy going on in the house, they think ‘I will calm myself down and keep my central nervous system quiet,’” she said.
A family came into PITCH4KIDZ with one parent who an 18-month sobriety, Ms. Beck said. The couple mentioned upon coming in one of their children “was a sweet little boy and another was oppositional defiant.”
The child had previously been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, which is “a frequent and persistent pattern of anger, irritability, arguing, defiance or vindictiveness toward (authority figures),” according to the Mayo Clinic.
The troubled child shared an experience where years prior when his dad was drinking regularly, he would get pulled off his bunk bed and hit when his dad would come home drunk.
“This child gets labeled with his diagnosis and his behavior is exactly appropriate,” Ms. Beck said. “‘I am going to all day be defiant if you hurt me’ is an appropriate response to being hurt every morning.”
The family has now moved on and yet the child still carries this diagnosis, Ms. Beck said.
PITCH4KIDZ “strives to impart messages of strength and hope to families facing the disease of addiction and traumatic experiences as outlined in the ACEs study.”
The Adverse Child Experience Study is a long-term collaboration between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente.
“The study was designed to identify the things that happen to us when we are kids that change our health course trajectory,” Ms. Beck said.
According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, over one-quarter of children ages zero to 17 have already experienced one adverse child experience while early one-third have experienced two or more.
The national average of children experiencing two or more ACEs is about 10 percent lower than Arizona’s average, according to Arizona PBS.
“If we’re not looking into childhood trauma we are doing ourselves a disservice for our future, because it is an epidemic,” Ms. Beck said. “The higher the ACE score, the higher the teenage pregnancy, underage drinking and smoking,”
She added kids living in a chaotic environment don’t sit well in school.
Carol Hunt, a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and trauma counselor, works with adults and said “when a child is traumatized, a part of the brain switches off and it cannot be processed until the brain is formed enough.”
Christian Sanft, a teen development supervisor and works with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale, says the organization reports to the Arizona Child Protective services when there is a suspicious situation regarding a child.
“We provide alternative role models for students who come here,” Mr. Sanft said.
Programs, such as Passport to Man aim to educate young adults about potential dangers of adulthood.
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics reported when children live in homes with parental alcoholism are four times more likely to develop it themselves.
About 1,700 kids are removed from their home in Arizona and approximately 85-90 percent are removed because of parental substance abuse, Ms. Beck said.
“My hope is someday that all those kids that have been removed from foster care, because of parent substance abuse, could be in my program or one like it,” she said. “We’re going to combat those ACE’s scores if we start to give these skills and tools to kids.”
Editor’s Note: Jennifer Magana is a student reporter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.