Assessing the Context of Permanency and Reunification in the Foster Care System: Mothers Making a Change Program . 3. Conclusions


A great deal stands out about the MMAC program and the services it offers. First, the fact that MMAC is part of the mental health system and not the CPS system (although they are both under the auspices of the DHR) seems to be an important factor, giving a sense of autonomy within the arena of child welfare and which also provides MMAC with access to resources not typically CPS. The result is a major benefit to clients who have the advantage of a service provider that can draw from a wealth of resources from mental health and child welfare. MMAC also benefits from being under the administration of DHR, which provides MMAC an advantage in its collaboration with other DHR branches like TANF and CPS. This seems to make communication, planning, and cooperation in setting service priorities much easier for MMAC staff.

MMAC also seems unique in the thoroughness of the design and development of its programs. The history of the program (i.e., the task force and focus groups utilized) demonstrates that a great deal of thought and planning went into the development and planning of the program. Moreover, each program component has a clear and defined population and goals, and the services strongly emphasize every detail of the client's needs. Perhaps, since MMAC is a substance abuse program coming from a medical/psychological perspective, the program takes a methodical and detailed approach to development and planning of services. Of course, this type of planning, development, and service cannot take place without strong leadership, and the current director of women's services seems to be responsible for the leadership that defines MMAC. She was hired at the beginning of program development, has developed a great deal of the criteria for the program herself, and has since been at the forefront of program implementation. Credit must also be given to DHR and other decision makers at the public agency level who were a part of the planning and development of this program.

MMAC attracted our attention due to the mother and family focus of the program, distinct from the trend toward child-focused and child-protection focused reunification services. MMAC recognizes that keeping a parent and child together requires resolving the problems of the parent. As a mental health program, MMAC sees the family issue from a "parent mental health problem" approach, rather than a "child protection" approach. Therefore, the goal is to solve the parental problem to preserve the family, not simply to protect the child from the parent.

The intensive and comprehensive nature of services provided by MMAC also is unique. The blending of substance abuse services that address addiction and social services that address the social and economic needs of clients makes well-rounded treatment for mothers and their children. MMAC staff spend a great deal of time providing intensive, hands-on attention and services to clients, particularly those in the residential treatment program. Moreover, MMAC perceives a parent's substance abuse problem as one of multiple family problems and takes the time to address each problem individually and completely. The holistic approach to services makes the services offered quite unique. Every facet of the client's needs seems to have been carefully thought out and met through services. Services are carefully structured to resolve not only addiction but build self-esteem, establish community and support, build parenting skills and restructure the child/parent relationship. It is evident that the staff of the program are dedicated and committed to delivering both complete mental health services and social services, supporting clients in their goals, and believe very strongly in family reunification. In the words of one client,

"I had the tools [to complete drug treatment] but I didn't know what to do with them. All they told me was to go to meetings and read your books, but nobody told me what to do if I ran into old friends or what to do for stress management. MMAC did all this and much more, every single day."(11)

Finally, MMAC appears to have a unique relationship with the courts and peer agencies it works with. Our discussions with DFCS, criminal justice, and court personnel clearly showed that MMAC administrators and staff have established themselves as experts in the field of substance abuse treatment and are valued resources on the issue within the child welfare and judicial community. The liaison relationships and communication routines MMAC staff have established with these agencies have been an enormous benefit to the courts and agencies, to the community as a whole, and to the success of MMAC programs and services.