Drug Free Cecil Provides Life Skills Training for Youth with an Incarcerated Parent

At a glance

Drug Free Cecil is providing life skills training for youth to protect against negative risk factors for substance use.

This photo includes adult and youth representation from Drug-Free Cecil. Photo credit: Drug-Free Cecil

Drug Free Cecil

Drug Free Cecil is a collaboration between several local coalitions working to reduce substance use and its impact among youth in Cecil County, Maryland. The drug overdose death rate in Cecil County more than doubled between 2016 and 2020.1

In April of 2016, the Cecil County Detention Center conducted a survey of incarcerated adults at intake to collect information about family, housing, and substance use. Of the 145 surveys collected, all but one respondent reported being a parent of children under the age of 18. More than 55% of these parents reported incarceration was having a large, disruptive impact on their family, with the heaviest burden being the toll on their children's emotional health.

For a parent who is incarcerated, remaining fully involved in their children's lives can be difficult, especially since they are unable to monitor their child's day-to-day activities. Because experiencing poor parental monitoring is a risk factor for youth substance use,2 Drug Free Cecil is implementing the Y.E.S. Initiative for children aged 5-12 years of incarcerated parents. Parental monitoring refers to parental knowledge of adolescents' companions, whereabouts, and activities and enforcement of rules.3

Y.E.S Initiative participants are assigned a case manager to work with one-on-one and complete lessons focused on each component. Case managers administer pre- and post-test evaluations to gauge progress in increasing self-esteem, developing healthy attitudes, and improving knowledge of essential life skills. Case managers and each youth participant collectively set short and long-term goals to address any identified deficiencies. Case managers attend participants' Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, Board of Education hearings, and work closely with teachers and school counselors to improve classroom performance and to advocate for the youth, when necessary.

In 2021, program case managers provided 231 sessions to 45 students:

  • 98% of students showed an increase in their skills knowledge.
  • 92% improved school attendance and grades.
  • 89% showed a reduction in school disciplinary office visits and suspensions.

According to the 2021 year-end survey, 92% of parents or guardians reported a reduction in verbal and physical conflict at home.

Beth Creek, the executive director for the Y.E.S. Initiative says, "These changes in grades, attendance, and behavior have a tremendous impact in our community. This program helps reduce students dropping out in high school and mitigates other negative behaviors that can also cause interaction with the Department of Juvenile Services and local law enforcement."

Drug Free Cecil plans to develop more youth-led initiatives in the future. Youth from all six Cecil County high schools meet monthly to work on prevention strategies. Virgil Boysaw, the Cecil County Drug Free Coordinator stated, "We believe in a youth movement. We believe that youth should be at the table for every decision we make in prevention. Without youth, we can't do this job." The coalition remains committed to developing leadership skills in local youth and providing the tools necessary to implement environmental strategies that reduce substance use.