YORK — Mothers recovering from substance abuse will live with their children on the York Place campus in a unique South Carolina pilot program that aims to help them heal while keeping families intact.
The Family Care Center on the York Place campus — a division of the Charlotte-based Thompson Child & Family Focus — will accommodate up to 20 mothers and their children 12 and younger.
The York Family Care Center is the first of three planned South Carolina pilot programs — the others are in Greenville and Columbia — that aim to treat moms battling substance abuse while living with their children in a residential setting for up to six months.
“We’re hoping this will serve a population of moms that are heading toward possibly losing custody of their children because of substance abuse issues, but also because of the related issues that come with substance abuse,” said Marco Tomat, president and CEO of Thompson Child & Family Focus, which planned a ceremony Wednesday to preview the program to the community.
Clients and their children will live on the Byrnes and Wolfe cottages on the 120-acre York Place campus, working with therapists who will provide individual and group therapy, parenting education, vocational rehabilitation and special care for infants and toddlers with developmental delays.
Keystone Substance Abuse Services in York County will provide the substance abuse treatment. Moms will travel to Keystone’s Rock Hill site by bus every day to receive therapy, while their children receive family therapy and attend school at York Place.
Naomi Torfin, executive director of Children Come First, a private, nonprofit advocacy group with a mission to reform foster care, facilitated a group that designed the Family Care Center model, motivated by her childhood in foster care with a mother who suffered from substance abuse.
Torfin said the current system offers two options for families with substance abuse issues: children stay at home with a parent, or they go to foster care. “In the world of abuse and neglect, we need more options than that,” she said.
Torfin, 36, one of five children of an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother, said she lived in seven different foster homes until she was 13. When she and her siblings lived with their mother, there were times when they went without food and electricity, and periods when her mother left them alone.
“But I did not want to tell anyone, because I did not want to go to foster care,” said Torfin, who said her mother was in and out of treatment. “The byproduct of that was, suffer more, suffer less.”
At 13, Torfin moved in with a family friend after her mother’s boyfriend hit her. At 16, she said, she moved in with her biological father, and she later attended college. Her mother’s parental rights were eventually terminated.
But things didn’t turn out as well for all her siblings. Two younger brothers were adopted, she said, but an older sister struggles with addiction, and a younger brother is in prison, she said.
“Foster care saved my life, over and over again,” she said. “I lived in a world of chaos and dysfunction. Foster care is a safe place, but because of its nature, it’s not permanent. It’s the no-man’s land.”
Torfin said the Family Care Center is an option to allow healing without tearing a family apart.
“We don’t have to either keep the family together, wondering if the family is going to be safe, or take them out of the home altogether, which is a very traumatic and difficult situation for everyone involved,” she said. “And it doesn’t necessarily address the problem. It suspends it.”
Janet Martini, director of Keystone, said the agency has been offering gender-specific services for women since 1993. However, she said they’ve never been able to house moms and their kids together for inpatient treatment.
The new program “puts the entire picture together, in being able to provide the mom the substance abuse treatment she needs so much, but also house her in a residential setting with her child or children,” Martini said. “It completes the whole picture.”
Tomat said that while Keystone provides substance abuse treatment, York Place will teach moms how to better cope with stress, appropriately discipline their children and to communicate well.
“We’re hearing that this is going to be a very heavily used program,” he said.
He said the program, funded by multiple state agencies and Medicaid, includes a fatherhood initiative that allows dads to be involved. It is accepting referrals now and expects to begin soon, he said.
Tomat also said the Duke Endowment has provided grant money to involved agencies to help with costs of training, staffing, security and follow-up to track the outcomes.
Other agencies involved in the pilot project are the S.C. Department of Social Services, S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services and S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation.