Congress learns how horses help children of addiction

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From left, Executive Director of Horses Healing Hearts Liz Olszewski, Dylan Armus and Congressman Ted Deutch in Washington.
From left, Executive Director of Horses Healing Hearts Liz Olszewski, Dylan Armus and Congressman Ted Deutch in Washington.

A Florida-based group working using horses to help children of alcoholics and addicts has met with members of Congress to urge legislators to increase support for children of addicted parents, and to reintroduce student assistance programs to schools.

Florida-based Horses Healing Hearts (HHH) founder Liz Olszewski and HHH participant Dylan Armus, 14, also told legislators about the group’s one-of-a-kind equine program for children of addiction. 

Olszewski and Armus traveled to Washington, D.C. on May 18 at the invitation of NACoA President and HHH Advisory Board Member Sis Wenger, a national advocate for children of alcohol and drug-addicted parents, to support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, CARA. The bill is moving quickly through Congress to address the growing opioid/heroin epidemic.

CARA “establishes a comprehensive, coordinated, balanced strategy through enhanced grant programs that would expand prevention and education efforts while also promoting treatment and recovery.” The historic bi-partisan bill passed the Senate by a vote of 400-6 less than two weeks ago, and this week the House passed 18 separate bills addressing various aspects of the issues. The strong support from both parties is facilitating a fast track final bill now in Conference Committee.

But this historic bill falls short in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable victims of addiction: the children of addicted parents. Both Wenger and Olszewski believe children’s programs are a critical part of the recovery process, and that legislation must address their needs.

During CARA Family Day at the Capital Olszewski and Armus shared their stories with legislators through testimony at the hearing of the Bi-partisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, co-chaired by Congressman Frank Guinta (R-NH) and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (D-NH), along with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

Dylan was the only child of addiction to testify at the event, and his honest and moving testimony in front of the Task Force won accolades from Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla).

“I am so proud of my young constituent, Dylan Armus, who traveled from Boynton Beach to Washington to share the story of how his mother’s addiction impacted his life, and how Horses Healing Hearts of Wellington helped to mend his relationship with her. Thank you, Dylan, for sharing your powerful testimony,” Deutch said.

Olszewski said a comprehensive strategy of prevention to get ahead of the epidemic was needed.

“For too long we have simply reacted to the children when they get into trouble. It’s not enough,” she said.

As the child of alcoholic parents, and someone who has dedicated her life to helping children of addicts and alcoholics, Olszewski is optimistic about the attention Congress is giving to the problem. “The CARA bill is a monumental and historic step in the right direction. HHH is very thankful to the legislators who have worked tirelessly to get it this far. However, we urge legislators to add specific language to support the recovery of the children and families. This is a family disease.”

HHH is the only program in the US using horses to help children of alcoholics and addicts. The West Palm Beach, Florida charity emphasizes prevention and breaking the familial cycle of addiction, while providing a safe place for children to explore their feelings and heal emotionally.

www.HHHUSA.org

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