Carol Thompson, who has been working at Hope House for nearly two years, said she never knows what each day will bring.
At the long-term residential facility and substance abuse program for pregnant women and children up to age 13. Thompson is the therapeutic child-care specialist.
She is responsible for helping the children readjust to some sense of normalcy while their parents recover from addictions.
"Every day is different," Thompson said, sitting at a small table a few feet from her desk. With limited funding, the room serves as her office and the therapy room.
"One was having bad dreams every night, where this man kept trying to get him," she said. "Sometimes some come from school and snap. You just have to get them by themselves and talk."
In recognition of Children of Alcoholics Week, Feb. 13-19, Gerald Carrier, the executive director, wants residents to be aware that there are numerous children of substance abusers in the area.
The Wrightsboro Road facility is at capacity with seven women and 10 children, the majority of whose parents were referred from the Department of Family and Children Services, or are on probation and were recommended by the court, said Larry Mitchem, the clinical director. On the weekends, "considerably more" children are there visiting parents who haven't yet regained custody, Carrier said. Special treatment is needed so they can rebond with their mothers, he said.
"These kids have deep-rooted anger and resentment. This shows that the disease of addiction not only affects the person. The ones who suffer most are the children," said Dr. Carrier, who said he's seen many children benefit from seeing their mothers change their financial, educational and job situations during their yearlong stay at the place. "The (therapeutic child-care) program is a form of substance-abuse prevention since the children are at higher risk. The way to break the cycle is to start with the children."
Because the organization is the only residential treatment facility in the 13-county area that allows the children to stay during treatment of the women, there are 28 to 30 women on the waiting list on any given day, Carrier said.
"And the sad part is that when we can't take them, you lose them. They go back to their old way, which hurts the kids," he said.
When the children, some of whom come from foster care or have been living from place to place, arrive, Thompson said, she gives them psychological testing. She then comes up with service plansdepending on the need of the child, she said. Parent-child therapy also is done.
"They arrive quiet, scared, angry, emotionally disturbed and scarred. Some of them have to regain their trust in the parent," Thompson said. "But it doesn't take long for them to come around because they get structure."
She's had her share of struggles, particularly in trying to rebuild relationships with the mothers.
She's seen one toddler who cried every night for six months straight when his mother got a night job, fearing she wouldn't return for him.
There's also been a 12-year-old boy who cared for his younger siblings for so long he'd become "used to being a parent," Thompson said.
"I had to tell him he didn't have to tell them it was time for a bath or to put on their shoes. He's learning to enjoy being a kid," she said.
She said everything is done to make life easier for the children, including having them catch the school bus down the street with other neighborhood children so they won't be teased, and taking parents to parent-teacher conferences so the children won't feel left out.
Thompson said by the time the children leave, she sees vast improvements in their attitudes, grades and in their mothers' parenting skills. She longs for the day when there can be more space at the facility.
"The parents need help because it (drug and alcohol addiction) is a disease," she said.
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