Jennifer Kent, program director of CHD’s Grace House, one of the few residential treatment programs designed for mothers in western Massachusetts, says the favorite part of her job is helping mothers take care of themselves while they take care of their own children. “They are people going through recovery, but also being mothers on top of it,” she said. “They are mothers who feel present—and they weren’t before.”
Especially gratifying for Kent is “seeing children be kids again—beyond the confines of the structured program.” Filling the air as she said this during a summer picnic at the house were the sounds of children’s laughter and splashing on the water slide. Running by her was Children’s Services Assistant Caitlin Mogilka, who was being chased by a girl with a squirt gun. Several weeks before, there was a field trip to Ocean Beach in New London, CT. Christmas and Halloween celebrations are also festive occasions at Grace House—with children frolicking around them, the mothers feel blessed to be where they are on the road to recovery and to have their kids with them on the journey.
A skeptic might say that raising a child while recovering from substance use disorder would add to a mother’s anxiety, but by including children in the treatment, Grace House is able to treat the whole person, according to Kent. The mothers are learning skills to balance the stresses of parenting and sobriety—new skills such as de-escalation techniques and emotional regulation, as well as emotional identification and expression. “They are also able to bond with their children appropriately, learn what unhealthy attachment looks like, and how to manage their own trauma and triggers so that it does not impact their children,” said Kent.
Family reunification during this process promotes better mental health, reduced anxiety, and an overall happier living environment for the families, according to Kent. “Through the parenting supports and family therapy offered at the program, our mothers re-establish their relationships with their children while working through their challenges,” she said. “The mothers are then prepared to live independently and successfully with their children after graduation. In addition, these necessary family strengthening skills often assist with breaking generational cycles.”
Grace House, located in Northampton, is part of the state’s regional Continuum of Care (CoC) coalition, which coordinates services for homeless families and individuals to give them assistance in finding housing.
“Because of our involvement with the CoC, our residents leave with stable housing and the supports that they need,” said Kent. “I’ve seen so many graduates of this program and so many successes. I recently received a letter from a graduate thanking us for saving her life and believing in her. She wrote that until we came along, no one had believed in her.”