June is Family Reunification Month. As we think of reunification within the landscape of re-entry, we must acknowledge that both journeys are often difficult and non-linear. At Concordance, we support our participants throughout their healing journey so that they can have healthy relationships not only with themselves, but also with their families and members of their support systems. We interviewed Concordance Case Manager Kevin Ellege to learn more about what reunification means to our participants and the importance of having a support system throughout the re-entry process.
Q: Kevin, can you give us a bit more background on what brought you to Concordance and your role?
Before joining Concordance, I was teaching the Substance Awareness Traffic Offender Program where I counseled individuals related to substance use disorders. After finding out about Concordance, I quickly realized this was a special program and a special place. I was excited to leverage my substance use disorder counseling and use my skills and credentials in a holistic, evidence-informed environment.
As a Case Manager at Concordance, I help participants navigate a multitude of systems – healthcare, food stamps, snap benefits, Medicaid, and disability. Another focus of mine is teaching the 12 step recovery program. In addition to helping individuals with a substance use disorder, I also teach participants who don’t have a substance use disorder the benefits of applying the 12 steps to their lives. As someone who is in substance use recovery for the last 13 years, I believe my lived experience helps participants relate to me.
Q: How have you seen the role of family and support systems influence justice involved individuals while they are incarcerated and throughout their re-entry journey?
Having family or a support system during incarceration provides a great sense of hope and purpose for those serving their sentences. Not having a support system can be detrimental for incarcerated individuals. This connection to the outside world provides those incarcerated with the strength, encouragement, and motivation needed to help them get through their sentence. Even participants with family in the picture who don’t understand the need for a transition plan can be harmful to successful re-entry.
Having support throughout the re-entry process is also critical. Participants who receive support as they transition back to their community – having people who believe in them, support them, and encourage them – have a better chance of successful re-entry. That’s where a program like Concordance comes in. We are that constant and steady support system that participants can lean on to help them navigate the re-entry process.
Q: What does Concordance do to help participants create support systems, either with family or trusted contacts?
Often, we have participants in our program who do not have support systems in their lives. It is important for the participant’s Concordance support team (Therapist, Case Manager, Career Educator, Career Coach, and Peer Support Specialist) to help identify a variety of trusted contacts and potential supportive environments, such as Assisted Recovery Centers of America, where participants can get to know other individuals in recovery. This can also be done though identifying sober living communities, where participants live with others who have remained substance free for a significant amount of time. Concordance helps participants engage in 12 step programming which provides fellowship, and we strongly encourage participants to find a sponsor who they can call in a time of need or before a situation becomes dire. There are even affinity groups within the 12 step program to help individuals connect more.
At Concordance, we focus on helping our participants change their mindset and their actions, which in turn shows the people in their lives that they are on the right path. I love being able to witness participants’ families and support systems see the progress being made and recognize not only the change in our participants’ behavior but also acknowledge the very real, hard work they’re doing every day. Change is all about small, incremental adjustments to one’s lifestyle, one day at a time. Concordance provides our participants the space and support to make those changes. It is these small changes that help to create healthy habits and serve as the foundation for living a better life. This all ladders up to rebuilding relationships with family and support systems.
Q: Does Concordance offer services to foster family reunification and/or support system building?
Supporting a participant through their healing journey often means keeping their loved ones in-the-know and integrating them into the journey. Our participants identify “trusted contacts” – individuals who are family members or members of their support system – who they are comfortable with us talking with about the program. We begin outreach to these trusted contacts while the participant is in the pre-release phase of our program. We share a detailed brochure about our program with them, so they better understand what their loved one will experience in the program. Trusted contacts can speak with our Program Enrollment & Intake Managers about our program and ask any questions they might have. A participant’s case manager will also encourage them to bring their trusted contact(s) into a therapy session to create a plan as a holistic support team, especially if a participant has had a setback. We also invite trusted contacts to our monthly Family Suppers at the Concordance Center, even if the participant is still in the pre-release phase of our program.
It’s been one of my greatest joys – to watch participants’ families and support systems see change in our participants. It’s amazing to see the progression and the confidence that participants accumulate just by coming to Concordance every day. They see their loved one leave the house every day and come back just as good as they were when they left, if not better. They’re sober, and they’ve gained something new that day. The accumulation of these actions over time instills trust that lasting change is possible. That trust builds and reinforces the relationship our participants have with their family members and support system.