September is National Recovery Month—a time to step back and pay tribute to those in recovery for substance abuse and mental-health issues, as well as to the health-care providers that facilitate such wellness. Building family resiliency is a big part of the recovery process, one that Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS) in Waltham has been committed to throughout the organization’s 150-year history. “JF&CS was made for difficult times,” says its website. The agency, with its rich history, has continuously demonstrated its success in adapting to “new situations and the needs of the community. One of our unique talents is an ability to determine who in the community needs us most, and develop a plan of action that emphasizes empowerment and self-sufficiency.”
The Center for Early Relationship Support at JF&CS provides intervention programs for families in crisis and recovery. The main prerogative of the center, founded almost two decades ago, has been to offer mental-health services to mothers and their babies. Under the umbrella of the center, JF&CS sponsors a host of programs that focus on new parents, some of them in recovery, who are struggling with their mental health.
Dr. Eda Spielman, the center’s clinical director, recently talked to JewishBoston about the variety of family and parenting programs at JF&CS that address mental health and recovery. Spielman points to the center’s newest program as an example of the agency’s long history of adapting to clients’ needs. Project NESST—Newborns Exposed to Substances: Support and Therapy—was founded five years ago for mothers who are in recovery. The project, which treats about 60 women and their children in a given year, takes a holistic approach to helping women who may also have concurrent mental-health issues, such as bipolar disorder and depression. “The program offers these women psychiatric resources that include ongoing therapy, as well as help to reduce sources of toxic situations that exacerbate their vulnerabilities,” Spielman explains.
Practically speaking, Spielman says, “recovery is an up-and-down process. It is not linear. For moms we support, we help them understand not to give up when they are struggling. For those moms who have been successful in the program, it has been a combination of persistence and flexibility on our part to meet them where they are.”
Flexibility is a key factor for success across all of the center’s programs. JF&CS personnel provide support in places that range from the home to a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. “We’re very committed to meeting moms emotionally where they are at a given moment. That also goes for the kinds of struggles they are facing in terms of addiction and recovery,” says Spielman. In addition to professional involvement, Spielman cites other resources that can include friends and family, as well as peer support.
Peer support is crucial to the highly successful Visiting Moms program. Experienced moms visit new mothers and guide them through early motherhood. Visiting Moms applicants are carefully screened and attend two five-hour sessions of extensive training. Peer support is also critical in the post-partum depression group. The weekly drop-in meeting is a source of information for many women. “So many women in the group have the experience of, ‘This isn’t what I expected.’ The group can be very helpful,” Spielman says.
Spielman emphasizes that peer support is also a critical component of recovery. “In terms of thinking about recovery specifically within NESST—and to some extent our other programs as well—we have a role within the program called a ‘mentoring mom.’ This is a staff person who has been in long-term recovery herself. We see in our work the value of peers with lived experience in long-term recovery.”
Beginning Oct. 1, JF&CS will launch a new project with the help of a federal grant from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Along with their parents, the program will help children from birth to 5 years deal with a range of traumatic issues that include domestic violence, immigration, substance abuse and mental-health issues.
“A lot of mothers we see in our different programs,” says Spielman, “are struggling with the emotional adjustments to parenthood. Across the board, whether it’s Visiting Moms or the people we see at the center, moms and dads are facing challenges, and we are here to help them have healthy relationships in their lives.”