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SAMHSA News - Volume X, No. 3, Summer 2002

Women and Children: The Faces Behind the Numbers

Homeless and addicted to heroin, Jackie entered the Matri-Ark program at Seabrook House in Seabrook, NJ, in 1995 after giving birth to an infant who tested positive for several drugs.

Jackie is just one of the 5,110 women served by residential treatment programs funded by SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and designed specifically for substance-abusing women who are pregnant or the mothers of infants or young children. Their stories underlie the statistics described in the CSAT white paper, Benefits of Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for Pregnant and Parenting Women: Highlights from a Study of 50 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Demonstration Programs. (See Women and Children: Treatment Improves Health.)

Jackie spent a year in the Matri-Ark project, a residential program that emphasizes reunifying mothers and their children. With the help of her counselors, she stopped using alcohol and drugs and addressed the emotional problems behind her addiction. She found safe housing and learned how to keep a budget and prepare nutritious meals.

"Our services are holistic. They address the medical, spiritual, emotional, vocational, and mental health needs of women and their children," explained Rebecca J. Taylor, N.C.A.C.–Level II, the former project director of the Matri-Ark program and now vice president of treatment services at Seabrook House. "We look at the whole family."

After several months of treatment, Jackie's sons joined her at Seabrook House and got treated right alongside her. They took advantage of the program's pediatric evaluations, early development services, and onsite day care.

By the time Jackie graduated from the program in 1996, she could see a big change not only in her own life but in that of her older son. "It's such a blessing that he's able to see a different mom these days and that he no longer has to live in fear," she said. "Now my children live in a house where there's no alcohol and no people running in and out. It's clean. They have food. It's totally different."

Today Jackie is a mother who attends parent-teacher association meetings and serves as team mom when her son plays sports. She's also a community life skills counselor, helping other clients at Seabrook House learn how to make the transition to a sober life.

The Matri-Ark program is also flourishing. In fact, the program was so successful that it received additional funding from CSAT and the state once its original CSAT grant ended in 1997. That money allowed the program to expand the number of women it serves, increase the age of children accepted into treatment, and provide additional services to children.

Vicki, a graduate of the Chrysalis House project in Lexington, KY, is another face behind the statistics.

Before Vicki landed at Chrysalis House, her life was a mess. Addicted to alcohol and drugs, she'd spent years bouncing in and out of prison and living on the streets. Pregnant, strung out on crack cocaine, and facing felony charges for drug dealing, she finally entered a residential treatment program. But when she reached the program's time limit almost 1 year later, she was still struggling.

Especially difficult was learning how to be a good parent to her two small children once child protective services returned them to her. Vicki's own mother had killed herself when Vicki was little, and her father had used alcohol to help him cope with the rigors of raising three children on his own. Lacking a role model, Vicki watched helplessly as her suicidal young son was repeatedly hospitalized.

"You have these dreams of how wonderful it's going to be when you get your kids back, but it's just not," said Vicki. "It's hard. Any alcoholic or addict with expectations that high and no strong foundation in recovery has a really good chance of falling back into old ways."

The CSAT-funded Satellite Apartment project at Chrysalis House was designed specifically to keep that from happening. The dozen apartments were home to women who had completed treatment and been reunited with their children. Although the women paid rent and lived independently, onsite counselors helped them learn basic parenting tasks, build trusting relationships with their children, and make the transition back to normal life. "Many of the women had never parented sober, so it was a whole new world for them," said Ginny Vicini, who served as project director for the program.

Vicki left the apartment in 1995. Two years later, she was back at Chrysalis House—this time as a member of the staff. Today Vicki is special projects coordinator at Chrysalis House, developing a new housing project for single women. Her daughter is a happy second grader and her son a tenth grader with good grades and dreams of law school. They live together in the house Vicki bought last year. "I'm living proof that treatment works," said Vicki.

For accounts of the programs from the perspective of the grantee staff, see the CSAT publication, Telling Their Stories: Reflections of the 11 Original Grantees That Piloted Residential Treatment for Women and Children for CSAT. To order, contact the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at P.O. Box 4235, Rockville, MD 20847-2345. Telephone: 1 (800) 729-6686 (English and Spanish) or 1 (800) 487-4889 (TDD). Web access:

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