Note: The Haven is our all-time favorite recovery program for women. A visit to this facility is all it takes to fall in love with the Moms, the babies and this “incredibly successful recovery program.”
~ By Julie Krow
Early in my career I was a child protection caseworker and one of my first assignments was to investigate alleged substance use and domestic violence in a home with three young children. I had an address for an apartment building and wondered how I would find the family I was looking for. As I pulled up to the apartment building I saw people lingering on the lawn, discarded liquor bottles and trash everywhere, and a window.
There was something about that window that caught my eye. There was a screen blowing loosely in the wind and a small child’s legs were protruding from the window. I saw tiny hands clutching a damaged window frame. In a moment, I knew that I had located the family.
I heard some yelling, some swearing, saw the child being yanked back in, and heard a loud smacking noise and some crying. I headed up the stairs, trying to keep an open mind, thinking about what I might find.
An older woman opened the door and said there were no children in the home. I saw another woman. She was very thin, missing her front teeth, lying on the couch, nearly passed out. There was a drugs on the table, beer cans and cigarettes strewn everywhere.
I asked to see the home. The woman on the couch woke up and started making calls. The older woman led me to each room showing me that there were no children in the home. I asked her to open the last door and she grudgingly opened it. I found three children lying on a mattress on the floor, clothing and trash everywhere. The baby was very thin. I could see her ribs and she had on a dirty diaper. The other children had bruises on their arms and legs and cigarette burns on their backs. They huddled together and were fearful of their caretakers. I knew that this was not an isolated incident and struggled internally with the dilemma of how to help these children without making their lives more complicated or their situation worse. At the same time, I felt some compassion for their caretakers, knowing that they probably came from a similar situation themselves.
The children did not cry when they said goodbye to their family and happily jumped in the police car. I thought about the childrens view and wondered how they could say goodbye so easily.
At the station, they ate everything the officers brought to them, and smiled and posed gleefully for the camera. It didn’t seem to occur to the children that photographing their extensive bruises and burns was part of documenting a criminal case; they had adapted to their situation.
I tried to be fair, to keep children safe, and to work with families so children could remain safely in their homes. I searched for caring relatives, and placed kids in foster and adoptive homes when nothing else worked. But I always wished that I could have intervened earlier, that I could have helped these mothers when they were pregnant. I knew it would be best if the mother and baby could be in a safe environment together and the infant could be raised by their own family, in their own culture. Every child I worked with always looked for their family at some point; they always wanted to go home. I stayed in that job for several years, oftentimes saddened by the suffering and despair I witnessed.
Today, as Director of the Haven — a substance abuse treatment program for pregnant women, where babies can live with their moms while their moms learn to be kind and effective parents — my wish to intervene early, and keep families together, has come true.
Every day, about 3:45, our chubby, happy babies crowd around the window at the Baby Haven waiting for their moms to arrive. Staff and volunteers hold the younger babies who pedal their legs and waive their arms in anticipation. I wonder how these infants and toddlers seem to intuitively know what time it is. A group of Haven moms walk down the sidewalk pushing colorful strollers, waving happily at the babies. These moms hold their heads high. They look healthy, sober, happy, and confident. The babies bounce, point, blow kisses, squeal, and giggle excitedly knowing their moms are coming for them.
Our program has been so effective that we have outgrown our small childcare facility. We are now preparing to build a therapeutic early childhood education center for drug exposed infants up to age three.
Our volunteer, Kathryn Winn, has made a request for our new building. The window at the current Baby Haven is too small and there is not enough room for every baby to look for their mother. Kathryn wants a new window, one that is very large and low with a safe, smooth ledge to pull up on.
I can’t wait for the day we open our new building and Kathryn will have her window. All of the Haven babies will see their mothers coming up the street to gather them up and take them home.
These babies cannot wait to see their mothers coming. And nothing could make me happier.
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