There is no shortage of programs in the Capital Region to help pregnant and parenting teens, but one offered by Catholic Charities of Schenectady County is breaking new ground.
It targets adolescents under the age of 21 who have used alcohol or illegal drugs within the last 30 days. Its goal is to help them avoid falling further into the substance abuse trap and avoid losing their children to foster care, said Beth Relyea, program director.
The state Department of Children and Family Services is paying for the program through a $105,000 grant that runs 18 months. The program began Jan 1. The grant will allow Catholic Charities to help up to 25 families also receiving social service benefits.
John Steele, executive director of Catholic Charities, said participants are “pregnant teens and young mothers who are very poor, who lack health care, who do not have gainful employment, or who do not have stable housing. Most of them are out in the community on their own and are not living with a parent or guardian.”
The new program will offer case management services to help them stay off drugs or alcohol for at least six months, help them get enrolled in an educational program and help them keep their children out of foster care.
Program participants — there are currently four single moms — are “young, and that makes them vulnerable. They admit they use, but it may be on weekends with their friends and there is no one sober to care for the child,” Relyea said.
Case managers “know they use substances and drink alcohol in excess. The guidelines are you can’t do that while caring for your child. There has to be a sober caretaker,” Relyea said. The case managers do not report them, however, “because from our perspective, we do not know when they do it. We can’t report unless we know details,” he said.
If Catholic Charities knows there is a problem, “we take necessary steps,” Relyea said. “But we know teenagers experiment and they are attuned to the ins and outs of CPS.”
Relyea said the program will address participants’ substance abuse problems and help them become responsible parents. “It does not mean they will go to treatment programs. It means they are open to discussing it with us and are willing to seek referrals,” she said.
Steele said the new service is a component of Catholic Charities’ adolescent pregnancy program called Talking, Listening, Caring. TLC services approximately 100 participants annually; some remain in the program up to three years, he said.
“Our primary role is to reach out to these young women, to help them build a new life. The bottom line is to prevent unnecessary foster care for these children,” Steele said.
The Schenectady County Department of Social Services supports the program, as it helps keep children out of the county-run foster care program, Steele said.
“DSS wants to have a private agency come in an stabilize these families,” he said. “Left unchecked and without support, couples that are poor and on the fringe can get into many problems.”
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