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Keeping our kids on track

<p>Naperville Police Community Affairs officer Sgt. Gregg Bell shows a small amount of heroin at the Naperville Police Station on Thursday, Mar. 31, 2011, that was confiscated during a drug arrest in the past. The heroin pictured is old evidence marked for destruction. Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media</p>

Naperville Police Community Affairs officer Sgt. Gregg Bell shows a small amount of heroin at the Naperville Police Station on Thursday, Mar. 31, 2011, that was confiscated during a drug arrest in the past. The heroin pictured is old evidence marked for destruction. Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

I know you’re wearying of the topic. God knows we’d much rather write about something else. But if kids are doing a thing that stands a good chance of killing them, we have to keep doing what we can to counter that trend. We’re the grown-ups here.

Not so very long ago, there were still plenty of people who supposed the words “Naperville” and “heroin” wouldn’t, couldn’t possibly, turn up together. This is such a nice place, after all.

But here’s the thing: a quick search finds those two words have appeared in the same news stories in these very pages at least 18 times so far this year. That’s more than once a week. It’s a real thing.

Fortunately, not each of those mentions has been a death report. DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen reports eight fatal overdoses involving unspecified drugs so far this year. That’s eight devastated families, but it still suggests improvement over last year’s average of more than one overdose death every week.

Recent numbers are pretty sobering: between 2011 and 2013, a total of 172 people died in DuPage from overdoses. Will County’s coroner reported 118 fatalities attributable to heroin during the same period.

This has got to stop. And maybe it’s best to stop a nightmarish thing right where it starts.

That initiative I told you about last fall merits a fresh look. The ParentsMatterToo project, a program of Naperville’s own KidsMatter, is launching its conversation circles. Outlined in a story we ran earlier this week, it’s a way for moms and dads to network on ways to guide their kids onto paths that will sustain them and enable them to thrive for many decades to come.

“Why do parents matter?” said Bob Fieseler, a dad, City Councilman and KidsMatter board member who helped launch the parental piece last fall. “They are the bridge between the kids and the outside world, and there’s a tendency in our busy lives to be somewhat oblivious to things, even right in front of us. … We’re hoping to engage the parents and make a positive difference in what the kids are involved in, and to steer them away from some of the more destructive activities.”

IdaLynn Wenhold, KidsMatter’s executive director, understands that talk can become strained when kids reach a point where they’ve begun challenging their parents and some of the assumptions they used to accept without question.

“We need to do all we can to connect parents and kids, and to empower parents to feel more effective in their conversations,” she said.

Naperville officials apparently agreed with that when they expanded their social services grants budget by $50,000 last year, and then allocated nearly half of the sum to the ParentsMatterToo.

I don’t know about you, but it seems like a pretty worthwhile way to spend what amounts to five one-thousandths of one percent of Naperville’s operating budget for next year. These folks are our future, after all.

Still, can you keep it on the down-low that your kid and the choices s/he is making are something you’ve begun laying awake at night worrying about? Sure, if you want. ParentsMatterToo offers a feature on its website (parentsmattertoo.org) called Ask An Expert, where visitors can gather perspectives from local authorities with an array of specialties. It’ll be just you and your computer who are privy to this interaction.

But seriously, consider joining a circle.

Diane Overgard, project manager for ParentsMatterToo, makes it clear in a recent news release that this isn’t your everyday parent meeting.

“Too often we have heard of parents who didn’t have a trusted network to turn to in order to get the support they needed to navigate these situations. Conversation circles change that,” Overgard said. “The circles put parents who are facing the same issues and struggles together in a safe, non-judgmental environment where they can discuss their concerns and challenges with others who are in a similar situation.”

Pretty simple, right?

Is this program all about keeping our kids from being junkies whose deadly fate is a matter not of if, but when? No, of course not. The circles are focused not just on preventing drug and alcohol abuse, but also on such matters of local currency as stress, anxiety, depression, bullying, cybercrime, competition, over-scheduling, perfectionism, self-harm and family relationships. You probably don’t need me to tell you that those woes often carpool into our lives, infecting them with their devastating teamwork. If it happens that these conversations end up helping to keep somebody’s kid alive to a ripe old age, who can possibly dispute their value?

I’ve posed more than my share of questions in this space today. Now it’s up to you to go track down some answers. Your kid is depending on you.

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