Nichole Haines says she’s an “open book”.
The 33-year-old speaks candidly about her addiction, substance abuse issues and her experience with the Indiana Department of Children’s Services.
But four years ago, when Haines said she was at “bottom,” the Fresh Start Recovery Center saved her life.
Fresh Start, an addiction treatment center that allows women to live with their children while receiving treatment, was created by Volunteers of America – Ohio and Indiana.
The new residence which will be on the west side of town, is supported by Indiana University HealthCommunity Impact Investment Fund and is designed to be an “extension” of the Fresh Start program. This will allow women to stay with their children while in transitional housing, said John von Arx, president and CEO of Volunteers of America.
“We strongly believe that if we can, we can stop this substance use disorder and treat and keep mom in a place where she’s going to do just that – recover – just keep her child with them in a very structured setting. has the greatest chance of family and preservation,” von Arx said.
Keeping families together in adversity
The first Fresh Start Recovery Center was established in Indianapolis in 2015 in response to a problem posed to Volunteers of America by DCS, von Arx said. The opioid crisis was contributing to skyrocketing child withdrawal rates.
The success of the program has led to additional centers in Winchester, Evansville and Columbus.
During the 2016 financial year, Indiana had more children in its child welfare system than any surrounding state, including those with much larger populations. According to federal data from the Administration for Children and Families, Indiana had 29,315 children in foster care that year.
Learn more about Fresh Start: Drug addiction program keeps mothers and children together
The program aims to prevent “having a DCS case open in the first place,” von Arx said.
A DCS spokesperson said the agency had no comments yet.
Although the treatment program has yielded “many excellent results,” von Arx said, a hole in the organization noticed was the period between the end of treatment and the real world. There was a gap in support, a gap that the organization thought it could fill.
This is where the new recovery residence comes in.
Funded by a $1.4 million grant from IU Health, the center will be the first of its kind in Indiana, designed to give pregnant women and mothers recovering from substance use disorder substances a place to go with their children after completing treatment for additional support before they enter the world of rents and mortgages.
“It was the leap from successfully coming out of residential treatment to getting that longer-term outcome where this family is really on their way to a happy, successful life,” von Arx said.
Haines’ Path to Recovery
Haines told IndyStar that she had struggled with addiction since she was 14. She has two daughters, aged 6 and 14.
Four years ago, Haines said she was in an abusive relationship and had two overdoses. During her second overdose, she was accompanied by her youngest daughter, Destannie, so DCS got involved, she said. It was not her first encounter with the agency, she said, and her daughter was removed from her custody.
She asked her parents for help, but they stipulated that she should go to rehab.
After checking into a 14-day rehabilitation center, she was able to secure a spot at the Fresh Start Recovery Center. His recovery date is September 28, 2017.
She couldn’t see her daughter for about three months, she said. It was tough being in the facility and watching other moms have their kids, but it also made her want to “push even harder,” she said.
“When a mother has her child snatched away, your hope kind of goes out the window,” Haines said. “And it’s so hard when you’re on the streets like that to get back on track.”
The program gives mums ‘a good solid foundation’ for recovery
Kevin Moore, senior vice president of behavioral health for Volunteers of America – Ohio and Indiana, emphasized that the program will provide support for moms.
The first 30 days of Fresh Start focus on treatment, recovery planning and skill building. Then, participants enter the second phase of the treatment program, which prepares residents for life in the community, Moore said. This is where transitional housing for recovery comes in.
“When they’re ready to take that step into more permanent housing, they have a good solid footing and they’re able to make that next transition a lot easier,” Moore said.
The association is currently seeking locations on the west side of Indianapolis, with plans to open the facility in the winter of 2023. While capacity at this center is limited, the organization plans to continue to focus on how they can increase housing capacity both at the center and beyond.
The recovery residence will house between 10 and 12 women and up to two of their children under age 5, Moore said.
Moore said that although many women have older children, the center only offers childcare, no schooling, so they focus on “little kids who need to stay connected to mom.”
Women will have their own living, sleeping and bathroom space, and there will also be community spaces for children to play and meetings to take place. The organization expects a stay of six to nine months, but that can “vary significantly” depending on the needs of the family, according to Moore.
There will be staff on site at all times to provide support and services, Moore said. This can include childcare, transportation, medical care and employment. This holistic approach to recovery recognizes that many different factors can lead to addiction: family stress, domestic violence, economic hardship, etc.
“We know that just focusing on addiction in isolation from everything else isn’t a very good approach,” Moore said. “You need to be able to noticeably improve other aspects of their lives as well.”
Brittany Collins, housing subsidy coordinator and family coach for the organization, said she has been advocating for a new center like this for years. Allowing mothers to stay with their children is “the missing piece”, she said.
“The interest is for them to have reunification or to have a safe environment with their children, even if they have children with them,” she said. “But if the resources aren’t there, if they have nowhere to go, they can’t take their children with them, so it’s quite disappointing. A lot of girls feel hopeless that we just didn’t have not that before.”
Lawyers took ‘a ton of bricks off my shoulders’
Eventually, DCS approved weekend visits, allowing Haines’ youngest daughter to stay with her at Fresh Start. The center had a playroom and many resources for children and mothers.
“They had everything you would need,” she said.
VOA staff members also vouched for her in court, Haines said.
“DCS made it look like I would hardly ever get my daughter back because I had a second DCS case,” she said. “You have (a) mistake like this against you, giving you no hope. So when people like them fight for you, it shows you hope and it makes you thrive even more.”
She regained full custody of her daughter in 2019, two months after leaving the center.
Haines still speaks with Collins, who has been instructed to work with her in her recovery, on a regular basis. Haines calls Collins her “guardian angel” and said she has felt the continued support since graduating from Fresh Start.
“I was already at my wits end not being able to take care of my child,” she said. “It meant everything to me. It took a ton of bricks off me…knowing that these people are going to be involved with me, even though I (left) their establishment.”
Collins said Haines is “a hard worker”.
“Working with me and VOA and her sobriety and recovery, she just blossomed,” Collins said.
The recovery is “not linear”
Haines said having the support of other mothers at her treatment center “makes you stronger.”
Recovery is tough and it’s “not linear,” Moore said. That’s why, to really see the impact of Fresh Start and what the positive impact of this new program will be, the nonprofit examines how each family is progressing towards recovery.
“Does this mother keep custody of her children and do they live in a safe and healthy environment focused on recovery?” said Moore. “That’s when you start making an impact on the community. It’s with one family at a time, and that’s exactly where we’ll be focusing our work.”
Haines wants people who might be struggling with some of the same things she’s going through, that recovery is “worth it.”
“It’s possible,” she said. “Don’t give up. There is hope. If you really want it, there are people who will help you succeed.”