Women and Children: The Faces Behind the Numbers
By Rebecca A. Clay
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
"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: www.health.org.
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