Creating Hope for Families

Parents, Children, and the Community Benefit from Drug Intervention Program

Stephanie handed her infant daughter to her friend and champion, then turned to the microphone, mustering her courage, to address the room full of childhood education specialists at the EC11 Summit. Before she could utter her powerful first sentence, she began to tear up. “I am here today because I had someone who believed in me and encouraged me to have a better life. I never thought I would stand before an audience and talk about my life. But I promised myself that if I could make a difference in the lives of others, I would do so.”

What followed was a remarkable story of courage and resilience, how this mother of three reached out to the caring team at the Kansas Children’s Service League (KCSL) for help overcoming her drug addiction, so she could be the kind of parent she wanted to be for her children.

Holding Stephanie’s daughter was Jennifer Gassmann, a specialist with KCSL’s Drug Endangered Child (DEC) program. Gassmann was the one who walked with Stephanie through her journey from addiction to sobriety, and into a new life.

The DEC program serves families with children 0 to 5 in which a parent is currently using or has used drugs, explained Amber Miller, the program’s supervisor. “During home visits, we focus on family functioning, parent-child interaction, child development, and parenting skills. We assess the families and develop goals for personal and family growth, and connection to substance treatment and support.”

In order to remove barriers to parents’ progress, DEC case managers can provide everything from transportation to child care while a parent enters in-patient treatment. Oftentimes, the bond they form with parents is life-changing, as in the case of Stephanie.

From pain to triumph: Stephanie’s story

“I spent my entire life feeling like a burden to my family,” Stephanie began. “I was treated badly as a child, and never felt loved. I felt alone, empty, and depressed.”

She was 38 when she began using methamphetamine to distract herself from feelings of sadness and failure.

“I used when my two kids were with their dad, and convinced myself that if I didn’t use around them, it would be OK,” she remembered. “But they saw my terrible mood swings as I was coming down.”

The day after she turned 40, Stephanie was shocked to learn she was pregnant.  “I had used meth throughout my pregnancy,” she recounted. “I was not prepared for a baby, and to face DCF for my terrible choices.”

Stephanie decided to make big changes in her life. She connected to DEC and received Gassmann as her case manager.

“Jennifer became an angel in my family’s life,” Stephanie said. “She had a way that made me feel safe and cared for. I could confide in her, she didn’t judge my past, and she helped me realize my life mattered. I was strong, and I could do this.”

In the year that Stephanie has been in the DEC program, she has made tremendous strides. She’s maintained her sobriety, received her GED, and learned to manage her finances.  “I have felt better this year than I ever have in my life,” she said.

“I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me get to this point. I can now see that I am a great mom to all three of my kids. I finally want to really live. I love life now and am excited about who I am and my journey. I want to show my kids I’m a fighter; I want them to be proud of me, and I want to be proud of me,” she shared.

Prevention is changing the story for parents and children

“Stephanie’s story isn’t unique,” explained Gail Cozadd, east region program director for KCSL. When people have adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), they are more likely as adults to experience disease, injury and disability; engage in risky behaviors like drug addiction; and suffer social, emotional and cognitive impairment.

“We are focused on preventing child abuse and helping build resiliency among parents,” Cozadd said. “Our mantra is, ‘It’s about the relationships.’ Every piece of research says it’s about safe, stable relationships. Often with families, we become that initial person that can model and teach what a safe relationship can look like.”

As case managers like Gassmann work with parents like Stephanie, they help them connect with necessary resources and walk with them through the treatment process. As a result, the parents build resiliency as they experience and overcome adversities.

Cozadd said Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund resources are being put to work in Kansas to prevent stories like Stephanie’s from ever occurring. They see the results every single day, as parents heal and change course for their children. Said Cozadd: “We know the triumph of the human spirit.”

The EC-11 Summit was hosted by the Cabinet on April 18-19, 2017 and highlighted the importance of investing in Early Childhood. We know that there is an $11.00 return for every $1.00 invested in early childhood initiatives in Kansas. The EC to the 11th Power (EC11) Summit focused on the successes of Cabinet-funded initiatives and the power of those programs to improve the lives of children and families in Kansas.