Lighthouse offers beacon of hope to troubled moms

Just as an old lighthouse stands as a beacon of light and guidance for ships, The Lighthouse Women and Children’s Program exists to offer women with drug, alcohol and mental health issues with one thing often lost amidst the turmoil of addiction: hope.

The long-term residential treatment program, located in Ellendale, is one of a kind for the state of Delaware. It is a place where adult women can stay for treatment — for nine months to a year — and bring as many as two children younger than 8. It is operated under Sussex County services of Brandywine Couseling.

According to Program Director Denise Kitson, the Lighthouse program is a reaction to a problem.

“Brandywine Counseling is Delaware’s largest substance-abuse treatment provider,” said Kitson. “But there was nowhere where women with children could go for treatment. And, often, women who have children and who have drug and alcohol addictions and need help don’t get it.”

The five-year pilot program is funded with a grant from the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. They welcomed their first residents in December of 2007.

The Lighthouse operates out of a remodeled building that used to be a homeless shelter. The building now has seven bedrooms, five full baths and can hold up to 10 women with two children each. They currently have nine women in residence, with another on her way.

The fact that the women can bring their children, and the fact that it is long-term process, only adds to the probability of successful treatment, according to Kitson.

“The best statistics for women in treatment is for those who stick with it and stay in the programs,” she explained. “The longer the treatment, the more chance of success. Most programs are 28 days, or 60 or 90 days if you are lucky. Nine months to a year is fairly unheard of — especially in Delaware. And, to be able to have their kids with them — it’s a motivator.”

The program employs about 15 to 20 people, with two resident managers on 24 hours a day and clinical staff available during business hours Monday through Friday. They operate across the street from a church — the same church that used to operate the homeless shelter. BCI rents space from the church, and that is where residents have all their meals. They can take GED and parenting classes there, or life-skills and drug and alcohol education, and there is a licensed on-site child-care center so the women can concentrate on their education or work and know that their children are safe and sound, yet close by.

Kitson said the small facility allows the residents to get the individualized care and attention that they need to thrive. The program is loosely based on an “enhanced therapeutic” program called The Odyssey House, based in New York, but has a softer and gentler approach, she said.

The Odyssesy House created New York City’s first mother-and-child program in 1973. According to their Web site, their groundbreaking program is the city’s largest, and allows mothers to live with their young child(ren) while participating in rigorous 24/7 residential treatment.

Kitson described an “enhanced therapeutic” program as a program that involves therapy in every aspect of the resident’s day. Instead of having a session with a social worker and that being the end of “therapy” for the day, residents are taught and encouraged to look after one another, and to check each other, at all times.

“We say you are best seen in the eyes of your sisters,” said Kitson. “Residents can write slips about their peers and say, ‘I’m concerned for you,’ and, in helping each other, they are helping themselves.”

The women come from all different backgrounds. Some come from transitional places they were staying; some come from their family homes, some from prison; and one just walked in. All a resident needs is to have an assessment of the level of care they need and an authorization by the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health’s enrollment and eligibility unit.

“We had one woman just come to the door and say, ‘I live here in the area. I heard about you and I need you,’” said Kitson.

The women’s days are structured, with classes and work, along with therapy and their core groups. One afternoon a week, they have an AA meeting that is open to women in the community as well — something Kitson said has helped with sponsorship and accountability. On the weekends, they try to go places that are free or inexpensive and are family-oriented, so the residents can eventually learn to find things to do on their own that do not involve drugs or alcohol.

Currently, on weekends, they have also been preparing the transition house in Georgetown. A few of the women who are ready to graduate their level of care will be moving out and using the house as a transition to the next step — to life outside the program. They will pay rent and be responsible for the house and will have to get jobs.

It is that step that is most remarkable for people like Kitson, who get to watch the women evolve.

“From the first day to now, it brings tears to my eyes, the transition of these human beings,” she said.

Brandywine Counseling, a non-profit addiction treatment provider, has 20 years of experience in helping people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues, and assisting them in leading productive, meaningful lives. They are licensed by the state of Delaware and accredited by the Joint Commission.

For more information on The Lighthouse Program, and their wish list of items needed by residents — which includes diapers, strollers and school supplies — visit online or call (302) 424-8080.