Gazette opinion: Less room for families in addiction recovery

2014-06-24T00:00:00Z 2014-06-24T15:14:11Z Gazette opinion: Less room for families in addiction recovery The Billings Gazette
June 24, 2014 12:00 am

Billings needs more housing for mothers recovering from drug addictions and for their children. But next week, there will be less when the Center for Children and Families closes Housing Family Matters.

Safe housing is one of the biggest unmet needs for families in the Montana child protection system. Lack of housing is a big problem for women released from Montana Women’s Prison in Billings. When parental drug addiction leads to child neglect, the child tends to be in foster care for years because addiction recovery is a slow process.

Housing Family Matters addressed all those needs as the nonprofit program housed addicted mothers and their children together with 24-hour supervision and frequent testing to ensure the moms weren’t using drugs. It has housed up to eight families, provided transportation, parenting instruction, helped moms find jobs and permanent housing.

Next week, Housing Family Matters will close for lack of funding. It will close despite seven years of service that:

- Housed 81 mothers and 153 children. Sixty percent of the moms were on probation or parole.

- Counted 14 drug-free babies born.

- Allowed 25 children to avoid entering foster care because they were immediately placed at Housing Family Matters with their mother.

- Reduced the time other children stayed in foster care to an average of 40 days, compared with 28 months in the traditional track.

- Resulted in 1,131 clean drug tests out of 1,152 total tests for moms over the past two years. The house worked with local drug treatment courts and community treatment providers.

Over the past two years, families have stayed an average of four months before moving into their own apartment with continued home visits and classes from the Center for Children and Families.

The most important thing family sober housing does is to prevent children from suffering the trauma of being separated from their mothers. Staying with their children also motivates addicted mothers to stay in recovery, Huston said. Being placed in a foster home is traumatic for a child, even if the foster parents are wonderful, caring people. A child’s home may be unsafe, but it is still home, and that is where they usually want to be.

Housing Family Matters opened with a federal grant to help combat the meth epidemic, but now the money has run out.

On Wednesday, Donna Huston, executive director of the Center for Children and Families, will tell an interim legislative committee about the house that helped keep families together – safe and drug free. It would take a miracle to keep the house open, but there are ways to ensure that it could reopen. Such homes should be part of the state’s strategy for dealing with child neglect and parental drug addiction.

State Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings, and Sen. Robyn Driscoll, D-Billings, learned just this spring about the work of Housing Family Matters and both have pledged to work together in the upcoming Legislature to make sober family housing part of the state budget.

The issue is funding, about $400,000 a year to staff the house for eight families 24/7.

As the Department of Public Health and Human Services works to plan for strategic use of its limited funds, we call on Director Richard Opper to ensure that a priority is placed on community-based services that keep kids safe with their own parents.

Thanks to Webb, the Children and Families Committee will hear about this on Wednesday. Later this week, the Law and Justice Interim Committee will receive the recommendations of a state task force on prison re-entry. “Expand nonprofit, community-based, shared housing” is one of the top recommendations.

It’s time for DPHHS and Department of Corrections to look at their mutual interests in safe, drug-free family housing. DOC Director Mike Batista, Opper, Webb, Driscoll and other lawmakers need to point the departments in the right direction.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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