Virginia Hoft is National Director of Substance Use Services and Southwest Regional Vice President for Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) Inc. In 2015, she began applying her considerable experience as a substance abuse and behavioral health nonprofit executive and practitioner to lead efforts at YAP to address the nation’s growing opioid crisis. Under Virginia’s leadership, YAP is integrating innovative substance use services into the its 44-year-old neighborhood-based Advocate mentor alternative out-of-home placement model. She is forming a new YAP Substance Use Integration Team to act as catalysts for recovery innovation to train and coach staff and ensure that leaders across all family justice, social services and child welfare systems are aware of YAP’s capabilities to fill gaps that exist in the traditional substance abuse recovery process. Virginia is a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor with Bachelor of Science degrees in business administration and education.
Why has YAP integrated substance abuse recovery into its alternative out-of-home placement programming?
More than 60 percent of children ages zero to six served as part of YAP’s reunification program have at least one parent receiving treatment for substance abuse. Out-of-home placement due to parental addiction is increasing and research shows these children are in placement longer with more multiple placements than other children in foster care. Effective programming must address all co-occurring issues -- mental health disorders, trauma, poverty, domestic violence, child maltreatment and others, including substance abuse. Our 44-year-old time-tested neighborhood-based Advocate mentorship wraparound model empowers parents to succeed by connecting them with accessible tools to rebuild their lives and reconstruct their children’s foundation. This family-centered approach focuses on the well-being of the individual and family. The YAP model is uniquely designed to identify and fill gaps that exist in the traditional substance abuse recovery process.
How does YAP’s Substance Abuse Recovery Family-Centered Programming Work?
Consistent with our community-based Advocate mentorship model, our Substance Abuse Recovery Family-Centered Programming prevents unnecessary placement. In situations when children are removed from the home, YAP provides frequent parenting time visits and works intensively to expedite the safe reunification of children into the home. We match each parent with a Recovery Advocate, similar to the Peer Recovery Support Services model promoted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Recovery Advocates, individuals with personal or family histories of substance use, support parents in their recovery and parenting. These YAP Advocates, who are specially trained and receive weekly supervisory guidance, coach, mentor, model, share information, and connect families with parenting and other needed tools and supports. At the same time, they help facilitate communication and collaboration with the court and other systems with which the individual and family are involved. We are also developing strategies for collecting and sharing related data; formalizing best-practice models; deepening our expertise; working with researchers; and exchanging knowledge globally on substance abuse recovery development.
What makes the YAP neighborhood-based Advocate mentor model different from other wraparound programs that include substance abuse supports?
YAP adheres to a no-reject, no-eject policy, meaning 100 percent of referrals are accepted and no family is turned away from our programs due to challenges that may arise during service delivery. All referrals are contacted by telephone within 24 hours and initial assessments are completed within 48 hours of the original referral. Specific services are guided by the family’s Recovery Plan. Because of the vulnerability of children served as part of our family-centered programs, safety planning and crisis support are addressed immediately. We match families with a Recovery Advocate, recruited from their community who works with them within their homes at times and days most needed to support the achievement of the goals in their individual plan. To help promote the development of trust and support, YAP provides trauma-informed and gender-responsive care. We match individuals we serve with someone of the same gender who, in addition so sharing a history of substance use, often has other shared attributes, such as experiences, culture, language, and interests. We also collaborate with health providers to screen for potential developmental delays or other issues. These assessments help us to build a team of professional and informal supports, including family members and close friends who can establish a permanent recovery support system. YAP’s Recovery Advocates work purposefully with parents in individual, family and peer-to-peer sessions in their homes and community to help them build skills and community connections that will sustain the maintenance of sobriety and promote family wellbeing. Our staff are available 24-7 to ensure a swift response to risks and crises. Ensuring child safety is a primary concern, and so relapse plans are developed early in programming to help prevent incidents of relapse, to reduce risks to child safety in the event of relapse, and to reduce the duration of the relapse.
Why is your work your passion?
I have personally and professionally experienced the pain and devastation left in the wake of the disease of alcoholism and addiction. And, I have basked in the freedom and happiness that comes with recovery. To be able to participate in any way to help others find hope and seize a second chance, I get to share in the joy, too!