I’ve had to take a break from writing to gather my thoughts and rest. And to be honest, I have not been inspired to write in a long time because the burdens of my career have stifled my creativity. This job is a very hard job. It’s overwhelming. Turn over is a struggle we deal with every day, which increases the work load even more. But I realized a couple weeks ago that there is plenty to share with the world. I try very hard to not focus on writing about the negative side to my job, and it feels that I’ve been surrounded by impending doom for many months (sorry to be so dramatic).
But it’s time to share a story that is in it’s infancy, and will continue in to the future (hopefully I’ll be able to share many more stories about this as it unfolds). It has given me renewed faith in the reasons why I get up and come to work every day.
Monday Morning (again). This is a different kind of Monday for a change.
I walked into my office and was greeted by a former client of mine (I’ll call her Noelle). She was moving into her new office next to mine. Yes, you read that right. She was moving into HER new office.
My heart was filled with excitement, nervousness, and pride.
Ohio has launched a wonderful program called START (Sobriety, Treatment and Reducing Trauma). It creates a position for a caseworker to work intensively with drug addicted clients and their families. The goal is to intervene early and provide intensive treatment and support. And it includes a very special piece for these families.
A peer support mentor. This is where Noelle comes in. The requirements for a peer support mentor, is someone who’s had experience and involvement with child welfare with their own family and children. Someone who has over three years of sobriety, and has knowledge and involvement in community resources and services. The PSM’s role is to support the mothers and fathers who are going through recovery, and guide them through navigating their involvement with the child welfare system.
I have been very excited about this since I learned of it last October. But let me tell you, seeing it come to fruition with a mother who I worked with many years ago, and seeing the woman she has become today is something I cannot put into words.
On Noelle’s very first day, I received a new case involving drug abuse by a young mother. Noelle proudly went with me and my partner to the home, to meet with the family. What happened in that living room that morning was something I have never experienced in over a decade of working with families. It was brutal, it was emotional, there was a lot of crying. And instead of removing children that morning, which likely would have been the outcome, we left with the mother and she immediately went to inpatient treatment.
I cried in that living room that morning, because there I sat, watching Noelle talk with this family about her history with children services, her road to recovery, her relapses, her fight for her life and her fight for her children. The tears flooded, because I never thought that a mother, who’s child I removed six years ago, would make such an impact on another mother and her family.
I have often found myself facing frustration and anger with this opiate crisis. I have written about parents dying, children losing their parents to this drug. And now, I can truly see, that there is hope.
Having a person who has experienced losing a child, regaining that child, and maintaining sobriety, speaking to a mother who is facing the same thing and in active addiction, is MUCH more powerful than a caseworker telling that mother she may lose her children if she doesn’t do what you say. Granted, that’s not exactly how I work, but a mom who knows she’s relapsed again, believes that the badge around my neck is something to fear. She may want to lie, or cover up the reality of what is going on because she does not want me to take her children away. But having Noelle in that room, added a piece of trust. She knew Noelle’s history. She trusted her and what she was saying, despite her being there alongside two caseworkers. She trusted that if she went back to treatment for the umpteenth time, that myself and my partner would not leave with her children. And reluctantly, she trusted Noelle enough to overcome her fear and go back to treatment, again.
Three weeks into Noelle joining my team I find myself in a much more positive mindset. I ask her questions about what it’s like during different phases of recovery, I bring her with me when I meet with this mother in her treatment facility and at court. We talk about the 12 steps, we talk about her skewed view of life before, and the clarity of her mindset now. We laugh, we cry (A LOT) and we support. I visit with the children and their family and they are happy and well cared for.
Noelle reminds me what it’s like to have faith and hope in others. There is ABSOLUTELY a bright side and success stories DO HAPPEN.
I realize that this drug epidemic has touched everyone in my community and so many others around the country. But I write this today to remind everyone that recovery is real and sustained sobriety can happen. Children can remain with their families. They can return to them and be safe, well adjusted and cared for.
When I grab my coffee in the mornings now, I laugh with Noelle about funny things our children did the night before. We talk about the extracurricular activities they do, how she travels for gymnastics meets, and about her nerves in leading her home group the night before. We often laugh about how similar we our in our music tastes, food tastes, and sense of humor. She has become a colleague, a friend and an outstanding mother who I admire.
**For more information on Ohio’s START program check out the website here: http://www.pcsao.org/programs/ohio-start