Treatment Center Helps Addicted Women Become Better Parents

At the Women’s Treatment Center, a residential rehab facility in Chicago, women are taught to overcome their addiction and become better mothers to their children.

Sarah Olkon of the Chicago Tribune writes that Heather Reynolds, now 28, gave birth to her daughter Alyssa two years ago inside a maximum-security prison where Heather was serving time for selling drugs. Reynolds, who was addicted to crystal meth, was given just one day to bond with her baby before Alyssa was sent to live with a relative.

Today, Reynolds and her daughter are together again, building a new life at the Women’s Treatment Center, one of many organizations in the region supported by Chicago Tribune Holiday Giving, a campaign of Chicago Tribune Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund.

The facility is run in part with public funds, but relies on private donations to support many of its services, including parenting classes, day care, early-intervention programs for young kids, detoxification, rehabilitation, therapy, and a 24-hour crisis nursery.

"They show you how to live sober," said Reynolds, who credits the center for teaching her to better cope with everyday stress.

Cynthia Wessel, 28, had no intention of giving up crack cocaine until social workers from the Department of Children and Family Services gave her an ultimatum shortly after she gave birth to 6-month-old Kevina. At the hospital, Wessel said her infant tested positive for crack cocaine and marijuana exposure, which meant she risked losing both Kevina and another daughter, Keviona, 3, if she didn’t get off drugs.

Today, Wessel said, her life looks completely new. "I feel wonderful on the inside,” she said.

If the cost of her addiction to crack were measured, it would be her children who suffered the most, Wessel said. "I was focusing on the high instead of my kids," she said.

Wessel is now taking classes to learn parenting skills, something she said she didn’t learn growing up. "I don’t have to ‘whup’ them," she said. "Instead, I count to five, or have them stand in a corner."

Jewell Oates, executive director of the center, said staff members understand that many of the mothers were raised in environments marked by violence, abuse, and neglect.

"Just because the women get sober, doesn’t mean the women know how to parent," Oates said.

For Tasha Green, 38, it wasn’t until she examined her own troubled childhood that she began to understand the reasons she turned to crack cocaine and heroin. She has been enrolled at the center since August, and her goal is to regain custody of her 7-year-old son. With that in mind, she is learning to better understand the needs of the boy, who she said suffers from attention-deficient hyperactivity disorder.

"Being a parent wasn’t part of the addiction process," Green said. This "really gave me a second chance."