Addiction and domestic violence are not just individual problems of mind and body — they are deeply rooted in society. A community network is required to overcome these vicious roots that, throughout Oregon, are disrupting social relationships and people’s abilities to lead fulfilling lives. In late 1996, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon developed the Parent Mentor Program to enhance the lives of children whose mothers are struggling against drug addiction and family violence. The program provides volunteer parent mentors to help mothers improve their parenting and other living skills. A mentor is a capable family leader who becomes an effective member of the recovering mom’s social support network and shows her ways to extend that network.
The program assigns mentor to aid mothers who are in transition to independent living after completing residential treatment for addiction or domestic violence. Since the program began, approximately 98 mothers with 220 children have had mentors. By providing a mother the supportive friendship that she so desperately needs, a mentor helps her and, in turn, her children know the benefits of a safe, clean and sober lifestyle. The mentor listens to, teachers, and is a role model for the mom and takes her and her kids on educational outings.
When a mother arrives in treatment, she typically has serious gaps in her knowledge about parenting—in some cases, even how to feed her baby—and in her ability to bond with her child. Parenting is a complex set of learned behaviors and attitudes: a mother who doesn’t “get it” usually came from a family who gave her inadequate nurturing. In a residential facility, professional staff are available to teach and guide a mother in her areas of ignorance and help her developed her strengths. But when the mother completes treatment she is suddenly left all alone to establish a healthy environment for raising children — something she has never experienced. For this she needs continued support. The program prepares and supports mentors to provide such support.
A full recovery demands attention to family, career and wholesome recreation. A woman must quickly rebuild, or build for the first time, positive human relationships. In addition, she must learn the rules, roles, rituals and communication skills to keep the relationships going—all the while maintaining a delicate balance between her identity as a recovering addict or domestic violence victim and her identity as a parent. In this crucial stage of re-entry to society, a mentor is a means for learning how to confront the short and long-term medical, psychological and social challenges of recovery.
The Parent Mentor Program is an innovative model for helping adults address serious life problems. Because of its holism, mentoring is especially well suited for individuals completing a period in an institution like a treatment program or prison and thus rebuilding every aspect of their lives. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon is eager to work with other organizations that want to develop similar mentoring services and has begun seeking funding to support this extension.