EDITOR’S NOTE: A name in this story has been changed to protect the source’s identity.
Alice knew she needed help.
With no food, clothing or shelter, the 14-year-old understood she could not care for herself or her 4-month-old son alone.
“She wanted to keep her baby,” said Tracy Barrett, case manager for Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Maternity and Parents with Young Children program. “But she obviously couldn’t make it on her own.”
Barrett said Alice had been abused in her mother’s house by her stepfather. When she obtained an order of protection against him, she found herself homeless. While living on the streets, the ninth-grader put her trust in a felon, eventually becoming pregnant. With few options, Alice turned to a family friend, who took her in and contacted Catholic Charities.
“This friend had little resources,” Barrett explained. “Her heart was in the right place, but she herself was disabled. So we stepped in and provided diapers, formula and clothes. I’ve also been working hard within a network of agencies to get them food stamps, public assistance and even child care, so Alice can get back to school. Now I’m researching possible jobs for her.”
With this assistance, Alice and her son are able to stay in the friend’s home.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to know we’ve helped,” Barrett said. “Now they really can be a family and hopefully, Alice can have a better life.”
This is just one success story for the Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Maternity and Parents with Young Children program. On average, the program helps anywhere from 25 to 35 families annually in Ontario, Seneca and Cayuga counties. The program was established in 1983 and covers three specific areas of assistance for expectant parents or parents with children up to five years of age. These areas include:
* Having a case manager work with a family individually on identifying goals and objectives that are parent-driven. For instance, helping a young mother with information on breast-feeding or developing appropriate skills in raising a child.
* Connecting families with needed services in the community, whether it is a social service or assistance with food or clothing.
* Assessing families if children are not meeting development milestones and referring them to other mental-health or substance-abuse programs.
Catholic Charities works closely with such agencies as WIC (Women Infant and Children), the Department of Social Services, The Salvation Army or Head Start.
“We are very parent-driven,” said Deborah Cole, director of services for Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes. “Our service is to provide parents with their specific needs and empower them as individuals. We are not meant to be long term, or enabling in any way, but just to get them on their feet and refer them to other agencies if necessary.”
Maternity and Parents with Young Children is funded through grants and donations. The service also receives funding from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal.
“The appeal is important to us because it helps us cover any unexpected costs,” Cole explained. “Because we help families individually, their needs are always different. So we try to help in any way we can.”
Tina Dean is another young mother who has been helped by the Maternity and Parents with Young Children program this year. Dean has a 2-year-old daughter, Cheyenne.
“Without Tracy (Barrett), I’d be lost,” Dean said. “She has helped me with how to discipline and potty train my daughter. It’s nice to have someone that has this experience. She has also taught me how to make learning fun for my daughter.”
Dean, an only child whose mother lives an hour away, said having a support system is critical.
“I can’t say enough about Tracy and the program,” Dean added. “Cheyenne loves her, too, so it’s been a real help to us.”
Barrett expressed her own rewards of being a case manager.
“I call it tag-teaming, because we work within this network to help families become self-sufficient. It’s really a big range. We see families in crisis, so we need to meet the needs for survival, food, clothing, shelter. If there’s an abuse problem, we need to get them the right help. Once the immediate crisis or need is met, we can begin to help them as parents. It’s a good program, because, like I said, it’s important that we focus on a goal of self-sufficiency.”