Treating Prisoners’ Postpartum Addiction

A substance abuse treatment facility for mothers and pregnant women run by Spectrum Health Services opened in Westborough, Massachusetts. The Giblin House — named after the facility’s main contributor, native real estate developer Kevin Giblin — represents a new rehabilitation and treatment center dedicated to children and women, especially those suffering from postpartum addiction.

The $2.5 million project took the nonprofit organization about eight years to generate funds for its construction strictly through fundraising. The facility has the capacity to house 26 residents and their kids of up to five years of age with bedrooms, child care centers, and learning centers.

The Giblin House will be supported by a grant from the state’s Department of Corrections. The addiction treatment facility was created to house incarcerated women who are new mothers or soon-to-be mothers with the goal of rehabilitating them while preserving and strengthening their bonds with their children. Spectrum’s nine-month residential program seeks to motivate incarcerated women to overcome their addictions by helping them realize the importance of their roles as mothers and the futures of their children. The facility offers these families an opportunity to heal together that jail generally can’t provide.

The Giblin House will help women who have struggled with substance abuse throughout their lives finally get on track by giving them a new focus. Now with young children, it has never been more important for these women to undergo proper treatment that they never received before — whether they never had the opportunity or strength to do so.

Each resident is assigned an individualized treatment program that they must follow in order to complete the program. Women will have access to resources that help them combat their addictions and clinical care that enables them to properly care for their children while housed in the facility. Some of the residents have experienced multiple incarcerations during the extent of their substance abuse addictions, but have never been able to break the cycle.

Once incarcerated, drug-dependent women tend to continue their substance abuse behind bars and succumb to their addictions. The impact extends to their children who experience psychological and behavioral issues themselves, and sadly the cycle of addiction is repeated. The Giblin House seeks to break this cycle and open positive avenues for these women and their children to follow.

According to a 2002 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) GAIN Center, women comprise approximately 11% of the country’s incarcerated population; however, this figure has been increasing in recent years. The need to address women’s issues in becoming more apparent in the male-dominated legal system. Even though the percentage of females entering jail is smaller than that of males, incarcerated women are more likely than men to have co-occurring issues such as mental illness, substance abuse disorders, histories of violence, sexual abuse or rape, childrearing, parenting and custodial issues, health problems, and corresponding trauma. The report states that of incarcerated women, 12.2% are diagnosed with a serious mental illness, and 72% have a substance abuse disorder.

Around 100,000 U.S. children have a mother behind bars. Research has proven that children’s separation from parents during their infancy or early childhood, like that caused by a parent’s incarceration, impedes the child’s ability to successfully form relationships and triggers failure-to-thrive, distress, anxiety, depression, delinquency, and academic problems. Lack or deficiency of maternal care and poor parenting has been linked to the development of emotional problems in children.

In addition to their parent-child separation, children of substance abusing parents may experience behavioral problems and neglected health, medical, and academic needs. 72% of children entered into the juvenile justice system, mostly under the age of five, have a higher risk of developmental delays, of which are associated with the mother’s substance addiction, mental disorders, and/or incarceration. Statistically, intervention programs that focus not only on the child but the incarcerated parent as well have a higher success rate. These interventions are more likely to have family skills programs that help reduce the child’s risk of substance abuse, behavioral disorders, academic failure, delinquency, and violence.

These programs improve family relations by treating both mother and child for behavioral disorders and strengthen the child’s sense of security and social skills. Without an intervention, incarcerated mothers with untreated mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders are more likely to return to jail at another time. The children of Spectrum’s residents will now have a chance at succeeding in life.

Federal and state laws allow providers for children, such as preschool or child care centers, public schools, special education, hospitals, and other licensed agencies to screen children believed to be at-risk. These children may be referred to community-based programs like developmental assessment programs, mental health services, social worker support services, medical care, literacy programs, social skills building curriculum programs, support groups, as well as evidenced-based family skills programs like counseling and parenting programs or detention center visitation programs to help support children’s cognitive-behavioral development. According to SAMHSA, only 3% of the 11,578 recognized substance abuse treatment facilities that accept women are programs for pregnant and postpartum women only, and only 14% provide support for pregnant or postpartum adult women. The Giblin House is helping to fill a societal need that is not prevalent among normal health care resources.

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