Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nursing Bears and Jail Babies

When it gets to the point that I'm repeating myself I think I may have been a blogger too long. Roy's post on the nursing bears spurred me to do this post about a new rehabilitation program that was featured in our local paper recently. I'm commenting on this at the risk of looking like a cynical cold old coot, but at least I'm consistent. I had the same reaction that I had when writing my old post Gummy Bears and Jail Babies.

The program is called Chrysalis House Healthy Start and it's designed for nonviolent pregnant inmates. The theory is that instead of serving time in a jail or prison, the pregnant inmate gets released to a house in free society where she learns to be a parent. It was funded by a $675,000 grant and is being run by a coalition of non-profits.

One of the first two occupants mentioned in the story is a drug-addicted prostitute who was pregnant for a second time after having to give up custody of her other child, a two year old son. The program uses the services of several professionals: a nurse, two behavioral health clinicians, a social worker, day care assistants and a life skills counselor. According to the article, they are encouraged to "meditate, set life goals and raise self esteem". Apparently it also involves field trips: after the first residents moved in they all took a trip to the National Aquarium.

OK, here comes the cynical old coot part: will they teach family planning? By the time they leave the program, will they be able to spell or to read? Will they be educated? Will they have any job-seeking skills? If they actually require six professionals to be a parent while living in the house, perhaps foster care is not such a bad idea instead, at least until they can show they don't need to rely on six professionals? Why is it necessary to turn a baby into a rehabilitation tool?

The Healthy Start program is a replacement for a previous program that failed called Tamar's Children. Tamar's Children shut down in part because of concerns about the quality and nature of the therapy being given to these women. I saw nothing in the newspaper article to suggest that the new program would address this concern. If they are truly seeing a trip to an aquarium as a therapeutic intervention for bad parenting, I'd like part of my $675,000 tax money back.