Something as simple as a family meal can go a long way in the fight against drug addiction. New parents are getting support in child rearing skills from a Mat-Su program that focuses on preventing the seeds of drug dependency from taking root in the youngest children.Download AudioAfter a series of health reports issued last year by the Mat-Su Health Foundation, health officials there are sharpening the focus on an old enemy: drug and alcohol addiction. The Foundation has provided grant funding to a number of nonprofits that provide behavioral health services in the Valley.One of the grant recipients is the Co-Occurring Disorders Institute, or CoDI, in Palmer. Aaron Clements, executive director, says he’s seeing alcohol and drug abuse at early ages in the Mat-Su Valley.“We have middle school and in some cases elementary children that are using different things, experimenting,” he says.“Where does it start? There are a lot of influential factors. It could be a neighborhood factor, it could be some biological factors, struggling and battling a mental health disorder, that’s going to potentially influences whether you try to use substances to help cope with some of the things that are going on in your life.”Allthough CoDI receives funding from the state division of behavioral health and the Alaska Children’s Trust, a $290,000 dollar grant from MSHF is being used to fund a program called Strengthening Families Treatment. It’s designed for high-risk families with children 3 to 12 years old.Clements says the 10-week course is specifically for parents of children with emotional challenges. The program attempts to address prevention in younger children, and the parents take part in it by getting coaching in strong family skills that help reduce problem behaviors.“They have a family meal together, as we know, family meals sometimes don’t happen as often as they may have used to. So that’s an important component, just having some time when the parents and children can connect. And then we have time when the parents and children are together, and then they break off into separate groups while children are learning some real key skills at the same time the parents are learning skills.”Strengthening Families Treatment is a program in line with an emphasis on prevention of drug and alcohol abuse at its earliest stages. Studies show that negative experiences early in childhood influence brain development.Trevor Storrs, Executive Director of the Alaska Children’s Trust, the state’s lead organization focused on child abuse and neglect, says child abuse can be physical, sexual or an exposure to domestic violence or substance abuse. He says strengthening families is one way to counteract child abuse in a positive manner.“If you keep going in there, and always keep talking about ‘you are doing this wrong, and this wrong and this wrong’ they are going to have no sense of confidence, you are not going to build resilience within the parents, and which then stems down to how they are interact with the kids. but if you find out what they are doing right, and build off of that, using that framework, your likelihood of developing the resiliency, the knowledge and the strength within that family is much greater.”Building resilience in children and in families counteracts the ill effects of childhood trauma, according to recent research. Aaron Clements says the Strengthening Families Treatment is one step in building that resiliency, one family at a time.“We are a small organization, and we want to have that family atmosphere. It’s not the all in all, but it is a start in bettering with support some family lives.”The Strengthening Families Treatment is unique in the Mat-Su in that it offers behavioral health treatment services for the child at the same time the parents receive family skills help.