Breaking the cycle
The Women’s Treatment Center gives moms battling addiction a fresh start
Friday, September 21, 2007
Toiletries for moms/babies
• Hair spray and styling products
• Shampoo and conditioner
• Hand and facial lotion
• Baby wash
• Toddler toothbrushes/toothpaste
• Breastfeeding pump
Women and kids clothing
• Athletic or casual shoes
• Bras (new or in good condition)
• Nursing bras
• Toys and books (new or good condition)
Items can be dropped off or mailed to:
The Women’s Treatment Center
140 N. Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60607
Denna was behind bars and fighting addiction when her pregnancy test came back positive. She wanted to care for this baby more than anything, but she’d been on the streets since she was 9 and had no idea how she would get herself together enough to raise a child.
That’s when The Women’s Treatment Center in Chicago stepped in. With the staff’s help, Denna was able to move from prison to the treatment center to complete her incarceration while learning how to care for her child and herself.
"In my addiction, I had basically made myself believe there was nothing better for me. That this was the life I was going to live for the rest of my life until I died," Denna says. "Being here … shows me that there is something better for me, that I do have a lot that I can accomplish. It brings the better out in me."
The Women’s Treatment Center opened its doors in 1990 when the crack epidemic hit and state agencies realized there were no family-based programs for women with substance abuse problems. The thousands of women treated at the center represent all races, social classes and ages. "Addiction cuts right through all that," says Anita Flores, development director.
The original 14 beds housed in the former Mary Thompson Hospital on Ashland Avenue have evolved into a bustling women’s center that treated more than 1,700 women and children last year. With a medical detox unit, residential facilities for women and their young children, a recovery home and a step-down transitional living facility, the center provides holistic care for families. Daycare and schooling are provided for the children (5 and younger) and Nana’s Crisis Nursery provides round-the-clock care for infants and young children whose mothers are undergoing detox or who are in crisis and not able to care for their children.
"This is about rebuilding families," says Flores. "Every woman who comes here has a treatment plan and a parenting plan. We work with them on parental stress and how to handle parenting issues."
Kelly, pregnant with her third child, says she is finally learning how to parent her children. "My kids, they’re growing with me. They were a part of the addiction, too."
Like the other women at TWTC, Kelly and her children can stay at the center for up to two years. During that time, the staff provides medical and mental health services, parenting education and child care services.
The staff encourages women to do everyday things with their kids, such as going to the nearby park to play. For women who have spent their days in a drug-induced haze, the idea of spending a day playing with and focusing on their child can take some getting used to. While they’re learning new parenting skills, the staff is always nearby to provide support and guidance.
"The Women’s Treatment Center is kind of a point where prevention meets treatment, because we are treating the woman and the child in hopes of preventing the child from having to follow the cycle that their mother followed or their father followed," says Jewell K. Oates, executive director.
It’s not easy though.
Funding only covers portions of the treatment TWTC provides. The Department of Children and Family Services provides funding for women who are DCFS clients only. The state, nonprofit agencies and private donors provide additional funding.
"We have to piece together funding to care for the kids. DCFS pays for the daycare component (of its clients) but to pay for the crisis nursery, we have to do a lot of fundraising," Oates says. "And with the parenting program, DCFS pays for some of it, but the agency only wants to pay for DCFS clients. But what about the other clients? They need parenting, too. If we give them parenting, then they don’t have to be DCFS clients."
The investment in the families at TWTC often pays off. Statistics suggest that more than 60,000 children in this generation will have had a mother who spent time in Illinois prisons. These kids will be at risk for future problems and may even follow their mother into addiction and prison.
But for the lucky few who go to TWTC, the outcomes can be far different.
Of the women who completed the program in 2005, 53 percent found permanent housing and employment and many continue to be employed and successfully raising their children. Unfortunately, not all women complete treatment, but Oates is philosophical about turning around the lives of women.
"I say the serenity prayer. Those that we can help, we do. Those we can’t, I don’t dwell on it," Oates says. "I really see The Women’s Treatment Center as an opportunity and I tell the women it’s a window of opportunity. You’ve got to climb through it and take a hold of it."
Kelly agrees. Even though she considered leaving TWTC when she first arrived, she soon realized this was where she belonged.
"Now I look at it as this is the best blessing that I’ve ever gotten in my life. It’s like a light bulb went on in my head one day about how many things I had to be grateful for," she says.
And as she gathers her young children close to her pregnant belly, Kelly reflects, "It’s that we’re all getting treatment together."
Liz DeCarlo, senior editor at Chicago Parent, is the mother of three, Anthony, Emma and Grace.