START helps families with substance abuse issues

Christopher Ruff, right, is the deputy director of the Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center.  He said it's hard to find someone qualified to work as a START Family Mentor, but he found the perfect fit in Monique Mercer, left.  Mercer, who is based at the Ottawa County Employment and Family Services office in Oak Harbor, uses her experiences in addiction, recovery and children's services to help keep families together.

OAK HARBOR — When a Children’s Public Services Agency (PCSA) case involves parental addiction issues, the hurdles can seem insurmountable. Through the Ohio START program, these families have access to a team of professionals who support their recovery, help them navigate the justice system, and work to keep the children at home.

START stands for sobriety, treatment and trauma reduction. Ohio START was implemented in Ottawa County in 2019 through a collaboration between the Ottawa County Department of Employment and Family Services (OCDJFS) and the Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center (SARCC) . This is an evidence-based intervention program that helps PCSAs build a team of social workers, behavioral health care providers, and family peer mentors who build a grid of support for START families. .

The peer mentor once dealt with the difficulties that other families now face

At the heart of the Ottawa County team is Monique Mercer, the program’s family mentor, who has already faced the same challenges these families face. When his eldest was 3 years old, his two children were taken from him because of his drug addiction. Addiction and the loss of her children added to the other traumas she endured. Her mother died of cancer when Mercer was 21, and following that loss she joined a gang. In this environment, she witnessed the horrors of violence, drug addiction and human trafficking.

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