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Team helps parents overcome addiction

ALPENA — Parenting can be hard for anyone. Throw addiction into the mix, and moms and dads are going to need help being the best parents they can be.

Alpena parents battling addiction and at risk of being separated from their children by Children’s Protective Services may receive a referral to the Family Recovery Care Team, an arm of Catholic Human Services of Alpena.

The purpose of the program, said Care Coordinator Tina LaMarre, is to provide a bridge between the family and the services they need to be whole and healthy.

The team — made up of representatives of the court system, a mental health agency, the local health department, and other agencies — exists solely to help addicted parents who are in danger of losing their children figure out what they need to do to protect their families.

The team gathers twice a month to talk about the families who need their help.

The parents are invited to those meetings, said LaMarre, who is assigned to families as an advocate. With her help, parents are able to tell their stories from their perspective.

On their way into the meetings, the parents are scared, LaMarre said.

“When they come out of that meeting, they are so changed,” LaMarre said. “They are so much more determined and positive because they truly felt like their voice was being heard and taken seriously, and they were being advocated for.”

A slew of resources is available to parents in the child welfare system, LaMarre said, so many it can be intimidating and hard to know where to start.

To quell the confusion, LaMarre, as a care coordinator, walks beside parents who are trying to keep their kids or get them back from foster care.

She goes to appointments with them.

She intercedes with their probation officer.

She sits beside them in court.

When parents are intimidated by a mighty system, fearful of what may happen if they lose their way in it, their care coordinator is their voice and their advocate.

“They’re so grateful that somebody believes in them,” LaMarre said. “That somebody’s there.”

The team and the clients’ care coordinator can connect a family to help finding a home, or food, or mental health counseling.

Crystal Bebout, family supports supervisor for Catholic Human Services and a member of the Family Recovery Care Team, works with families who have had children temporarily taken away.

Bebout goes into homes, teaching parents how to cook a healthy meal or balance a budget.

If parents struggle with anger, she teaches them how to adjust their verbal and physical reactions.

If they’re overwhelmed with garbage, she’ll get them a dumpster.

Her job is to help parents set goals for themselves and reach those goals — something many people can’t do on their own — so they can keep their children, Bebout said.

For parents battling addiction, that might mean making a plan for what happens when they relapse, to make sure the kids aren’t endangered.

An addicted parent doesn’t mean a bad person, Bebout said.

When she was a kid, there were no services and no help for her mother, an addict, or for her siblings, who battled addictions of their own.

When she grew up, she told herself as a girl, she wanted to find a way to help at least one family like hers.

Now, as part of a team daily stepping into the homes and lives of families hurt by addiction, she knows what it’s like on the other side, and how easy it is to become the one who needs help.

“You or I could have a bump in the road,” Bebout said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re a bad family or anything like that. It’s just, we’re human. And things happen.”

Watching parents reunify with their children after she and the team have helped them is one of the best parts of her job, LaMarre said, eyes filling with tears.

No parents want to lose their children, and nobody wants to be addicted, LaMarre said. Many adult clients tell the Family Recovery Care Team about their own childhood trauma, their own path to addiction as a way to cope.

“They’ll say, ‘I don’t want my children to grow up the way I grew up,'” LaMarre said. “They want to end the cycle.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

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