Three Recovery High Schools have been running in Massachusetts for five years now and plans are underway to open a fourth school in Brockton. The original three in Boston, Springfield and Beverly have provided a much needed service for, respectively, the western part of the state, the greater Boston area and the North Shore. Brockton will provide similar services in the Southeast.
The addition of the program in Brockton has been supported by the successes of the first three, based on a national model.
The Beverly program has regularly graduated between 10 and 20 students each year, out of a total enrollment of about 50. These graduates are all teens with some form of problem with alcohol or other drugs, many of them with co-occurring psychiatric disorders as well. The North Shore program was also the topic of a well received national documentary, broadcast a few weeks ago on Current TV. The students in the documentary as well as their peers regularly report that without the school, they would not have a high school diploma and would be victims of their addictions, either in jail or dead. The schools create a supportive community for teens who, due to their drug problems, have burned through their other communities of family, neighborhood and public school and would have no place to go otherwise. One recent graduate was heard to lament: “I don’t know what to do without this place”. He was told “just because you have graduated does not mean you can’t come back. Graduates are regularly hired as peer staff in part time jobs and are always welcomed back to visit if they need additional help. Others go on to full time jobs and college.
The news that implementation of the new Brockton program is in jeopardy is then especially ironic, given the success of the other programs and the demonstrated need. Although approval has been given by the bureaucratic powers that be, funding may not be available, given the drastic budget cuts in state services. Some of the budget difficulties are related to the vote last November to eliminate a tax on sale of alcohol products. With heavy funding from the liquor industry, the voters of the Commonwealth were told they needed to support the small business owners who ran liquor stores who were experiencing a “severe” impact from this tax. The actual figures amounted to no more than a dollar per 12 pack of beer and the effect on treatment programs was downplayed in the information provided by the liquor industry campaign.
Professionals on the North Shore are regularly confronted with requests from parents desperate to find help for their teens and are unable to suggest any more than a handful of appropriate services for kids with substance abuse problems. The Brockton program would add only one more resource to part of the state, but a resource with a proven success rate and a proven need. Let’s hope that the funding can be found to get this program off the ground so another 50 kids can get what they need. Without it, we are jeopardizing our future and turning our backs on fifty sick kids and their families.