We forget how big a first step can be. It may sound incremental, tedious, and tenuous for an adult struggling with addiction, but consider what an important milestone it is for a baby. For a woman seeking recovery for her own health and the health of her children, a first step can be equally as monumental.
“This place literally saved my life … and changed my life,” says one mother who graduated from First Step Home, a place for help, for hope and for healing. What’s unique about the program is that mothers in recovery do not have to go through the healing process apart from their children.
Back in the early 1990s, people in Cincinnati’s recovery community were hearing a lot about a common problem. Women wanted to go into treatment, but couldn’t find a safe place to leave their children while they were away.
So, in 1993 they decided to do something about it, and First Step Home was founded. First Step Home was founded. It’s a certified drug and alcohol program in southern Ohio that allows children to live with their mom while she’s receiving treatment.
“We can serve up to 100 women,” says Margo Spence, First Step Home’s CEO. “We accept kids up to age 12. Many times, a mom is pregnant and will bring another child with her.”
Women are usually in treatment services for 30 days or so, depending on their needs. They can stay in campus housing within a shared living environment. There is also a 23-unit apartment building, featuring 12 single bedrooms and 11 studio apartments. Women who are close to giving birth can stay in the Terry Schoenling Home, an 8-bedroom house where women share common space. It provides an opportunity for moms-tobe to prepare for the birth of their baby.
But First Step Home involves much more than a place to stay. “It’s not just housing; it’s also connection to treatment,” Spence explains. “Treatment is available in different forms. There’s counseling, both individual and group. Women receive training on parenting and relapse prevention. Vocational services, case management, nurses, medical and physician services are also available. Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is also provided onsite, as are a majority of the services.”
There’s also the Child Resiliency Program, which provides specialized services for children (such as a speech pathologist, trauma therapists and nursing services). “That’s critical. It’s very difficult for women to leave children and go into treatment. Knowing their kids are in a safe environment relieves a lot of stress for women, and they can focus better on their treatment.”
Women conclude their participation with a graduation ceremony. They’re held twice yearly with family, representatives from the court system, and others looking on. Two women are selected each time to share their stories. Spence is still touched when she recalls one woman’s remembrance last year. She went through the program and successfully completed it. Today, she’s a manager at a local restaurant, recently purchased a car and now has custody of all her children again.
“Sometimes, women come in looking absolutely hopeless,” says Spence. “Then something happens, and the woman sees she has potential. She understands she can do things and, with support, she makes major changes in her life. We see her at her graduation, and she looks healthy. That’s what success looks like for me.”
First Step Home was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.