Drug Program Gives
Struggling Mothers Clean Start
Feb 19, 2002
By KARLA JACKSON
TAMPA - From the time
she was 16 years old, through three pregnancies, a string of low- wage
jobs and countless beatings by her husband, Shannon Alvarez snorted
She was arrested on coke
possession charges in 1996, violated probation repeatedly by continuing to
use the drug, and wound up in jail for three months in fall 2000.
Her youngest son, Roger, was
22 days old when she was incarcerated.
``It'll either slap you smart
or slap you stupid,'' Alvarez said of her jail experience. ``It slapped me
smart in a big way.''
Now 29, she has been clean for
14 months with the help of a local program for addicted mothers run by the
Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office.
The program is called
SAMI, short for Substance Abusing Mothers and their Infants, and it
boasts a 2001 ``Best Practices'' award from the state Department of
Children and Families and the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.
``You have no clue what SAMI
has done for me,'' said Alvarez, her eyes filling with tears. ``I've had
so many wonderful things happen for me since I've been clean.''
SAMI helped Alvarez walk away
from the drugs and violence in her marriage, find public assistance, get
an apartment, get her children back from state-ordered custody, and, most
importantly, combat her addiction.
``Recovery is just about
living life the way it should be lived,'' she said. ``I had no idea how to
do that. They taught me the skills I needed and helped me figure out what
was broken inside of me.''
Today, Alvarez works part time
as a telemarketer and cherishes taking care of her boys: Cesar, 11;
Lorenzo, 8; and Roger, 16 months.
Just four years ago, services
for mothers with multiple problems such as Alvarez's were scattered and
hard to find.
Three local agencies that were
serving such women started a collaborative, called Family Centered
Substance Abuse Services, to streamline the process.
DACCO became the lead agency
for the effort and started SAMI. The other partners are the Centre for
Women, which operates a similar program called Project Recovery, and the
Child Abuse Council, a local nonprofit agency working to reduce abuse and
The collaborative receives $1
million annually from the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, which
distributes some $24 million in local property tax dollars that fund about
70 programs for children.
``We took that money and
created a seamless system for addicted mothers and their children,'' said
Kay Doughty, the collaborative director.
The Children's Board funding
for the collaborative ends in September 2003.
What happens then is unclear
because the board is reconsidering the way it distributes money, said its
executive director, Luanne Panacek.
``Right now our funding is so
diverse, you can't put a lot of money toward any one area,'' Panacek said.
``We want to put the most dollars where they will have a measurable
That doesn't mean SAMI and
programs like it won't be funded, Panacek said.
Every program the board funds
will be evaluated based on how well it meets three criteria:
* How well it performs.
* Whether there are other
sustainable funding sources, such as grants or federal dollars.
* How well it fits into the
board's new ``strategic focus,'' which is being crafted and is likely to
be announced in June.
SAMI is ``outstanding,''
Panacek said. ``We're never going to just walk away'' and leave a program
stranded without funding.
For more information about
treatment programs for addicted mothers and for women without children,
call the Children's Board at (813) 229-2884.
Every day in Hillsborough
County, an average of 75 women await an opening in a publicly funded
substance abuse treatment program. About 10 percent are pregnant or
postpartum. Of the women admitted to treatment in 1995-96:* 59.7 percent
were 31 to 45 years old.
* 61.6 percent were white,
34.9 percent were black, 7.3 percent were Hispanic. (Some women considered
themselves more than one race.)
* 66.4 percent had two or more
* 67.9 percent were
* 70.9 percent were involved
with the criminal justice system.
* 84.3 percent were paid less
than $10,400 annually.
* 55.7 percent were unlikely
to complete treatment successfully.
Reporter Karla Jackson can
be reached at (813) 259-7606.
This story can be found at : http://health.tbo.com/health/MGA6P2F9VXC.html