ELDERSBURG — Growing up with an alcoholic parent, Charlene Salony always wished she had someone to discuss her feelings with.
That experience, coupled with a desire to help others, led her to start a support group sponsored by Holy Spirit Lutheran Church for the elementary school-agedchildren of substance abusers.
"There are groups for adult children of alcoholics and things forteens, but nothing for kids," Salony said. "Kids need as much support, maybe more, than other people because they are living in the midstof (the abuse problem)."
The "Ala-kids" group, which meets at 7 on Monday nights, loosely follows the type of self-help programs offered at Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-anon.
Each has 12 steps that the participant works through to solve the substance abuse problem.
"We gear the program to the kids," said Roxanne, a coordinator who declined to give her last name so her children could remain anonymous. "It takes longer for them to look for what the meaning is and to put itinto English they can understand."
For example, the coordinators have adapted the first step of A.A. -- "We admit that we are powerless over alcohol" -- to the children's experience.
"Most of the kidsthink if they could be a better kid and do what their parents say, they can somehow control their parents' drinking," said Salony, who isa psychiatric nurse at Shepherd Pratt Hospital in Baltimore. "The kids need to know they can't control anybody else's behavior, just their own."
Specific concerns are addressed at each meeting, but the coordinators do not act as teachers.
"We don't use this as a drug or alcohol education class," said Roxanne, who used to do probation work with teen-agers in Anne Arundel County. "We deal more with feelings and how to deal with the family.
"We try to teach them they can still love the person who has the problem, but detach it from the person."
Anonymity also is very important to the success of the program, the coordinators said. Youngsters are known only by their first names, and parents are not allowed to sit in on the meetings.
"The kids can share their feelings, and know that they aren't the only kidwho came home from school and found Mom or Dad passed out and felt scared," said Salony. "They really feel very trapped.
"They feel they can't talk to anybody, don't want to bring friends home or tell any of their friends."
Word about the program has spread, increasingattendance from three to eight students since it began in February, the coordinators said. However, some children who need help may not be attending since they
must rely on their parents for transportation.
"It depends on the situation," said Roxanne. "In a home where the person is in recovery, they may bring the child. But with two parents involved, the program may conflict with what they think the child needs."
Salony said the spouse of the abuser might bring the child, or they could get a ride with a friend.
"We've thought of someways to get around that, way in the future," she said. "We've hoped to have something in the schools, but we're not sure about the schoolpolicies."
Although the children have been in the program for only a few months, Salony said she feels they've helped the children.
"Some of the parents have come up after the meetings and thanked us," she said. "They've said the kids have opened up more and there is adifference in their attitude and self-confidence at home.
"It's gratifying to see this in such a short space of time."