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Opioid and Drug Use Pandemic Impacting Families in Kandiyohi County

The first fall “Lunch and Learn” session for the Willmar Area Women’s Fund was held on Monday, November 6th, 2023. The Steering Committee had the privilege of listening to updates and information sharing from two past grant recipients:  Jolynn Sundstrom from Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services and Kent Bowman from the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office. As the WAWF transitions from a crucial focus on trauma informed care to a trauma response focus, it is imperative that we touch base with grant recipients to determine if gaps still exist.


Sundstrom and Bowman first provided updates on the many positive impacts they experienced working with children and families in Kandiyohi County using trauma informed care training.  As they continued to present and share information with the Steering Committee, it became apparent that there are still many areas of need within the community. One future area of focus could be support for a new program that will be placing social workers within the jail system. These social workers will be working with individuals, in the jail system and on probation, by providing overall assistance with needs from chemical use assessments to case management care.  Kent Bowman stated,“There may be future holes and needs once this program gets off its feet and running, however these areas of need might not arise until mid-2024.” 


Another major need in our community is to provide parent education and a stronger social support network for parents currently incarcerated. Sundstrom and Bowman reported that they are trying to build stronger support for families by encouraging visits between children and parents in the jail system. It was discussed that it would be helpful to provide resources for parents to be able to interact with their children during this crucial time, such as books to read to each other. As open discussion continued, it was reported that of the 30% of children placed in the foster system due to parental incarceration, 65% end up living with relatives that are often not prepared to raise children again. These families often struggle with needed modifications to their homes, money for gas and needed necessities, and training such as the required CPR course. It was further noted that these families would benefit from support and resources to assist them with some of the difficulties they are now facing raising their loved ones. 


Throughout the hour-long discussion, a major underlying theme was the opioid epidemic. The misuse of and addiction to prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl is an increasing crisis that is majorly impacting children and families  in Kandiyohi County. It is one of the main reasons for incarceration and linked to 70% of Child Protection Service cases. The ripple effect of this epidemic affects families county wide and is often an underlying link in our human services and criminal justice cases. 

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