Rebuilding Broken Families

Rebuilding Broken Families
Posted by FoM on January 23, 2000 at 08:27:28 PT
By Maureen West, The Arizona Republic 
Source: Arizona Central
Every Friday night, 8-year-old Andrew has dinner with his sort-of stepdad, Garry Jenkins, to talk about his feelings and how things are going in his life. Andrew and his two older brothers haven't had much practice with healthy family discourse. Their father figure, Jenkins, has been in trouble, usually because of drugs, most of his life. 
But he has been clean the past two years. He's working on getting his life back together - and being a better parent to these kids, his girlfriends', whom he loves as if they were his own. For eight weeks this fall, Jenkins and the three boys joined other families whose parents are on court-ordered "intensive probation" in a family communications program sponsored by the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department. The goal of the program, one of many new treatment tactics in the war on drugs, is to help break the generational cycle of drug use and crime. While babies in diapers attend, the Strengthening Families Program is geared to children ages 5 to 12 whose parents are on probation. "The whole family is affected by drug use, and mom or dad going away to jail," said Cynthia James, who oversees the class. As many as half the nation's criminal offenders are children of parents who were imprisoned before them. Kids learn by example. Kids have access to drugs in households where the adults are using drugs, and the grown-ups often are so distracted by their own addictions that they don't know or care what the kids are getting into, James said. Children may even end up using drugs as a way to get close to parents. The county's program is designed in part to break that cycle by encouraging parents and children to share and care. The program also includes drug education for the children. They are told how drugs can make parents moody or seem not to care about them. Parents learn to discipline their children in a positive way; kids are taught to take responsibility. At its core, the Strengthening Families Program is a drug prevention program, James said. "I see so many juveniles who are in adult programs who wouldn't be there if they had learned some of these things when they were younger, if they had known someone cared," she said. Last year, 3,780 people went through court-ordered adult probation programs, up from 1,400 in 1997, according to Zachary Dal Pra, an Adult Probation Department supervisor. "But when you consider that 22,500 are on probation in Maricopa County alone," Dal Pra said, "we are missing a lot of people. "An estimated 65 percent of those arrested - about 18,000 adults - have some drug-related problem. That is 14,000 we are not serving, not to mention their families." At the end of the eight weeks, Jenkins and other parents in the class said they already have noticed changes at home. Before her sobriety began 17 months ago, Rhonda Gomez, 35, showed only occasional interest in her three boys, ages 11, 12 and 16. She was too "doped up," she said. She remembers dropping by her mother's house, where her three boys live, on Christmas Eve just long enough to deliver some toys before going back to the streets. "You can't undo the past," she told her kids one day during the family program. "But I will do the best I can from now on." Published: January 23, 2000Copyright 2000, Arizona CentralRelated Articles in Series:Aid Money Targets Certain Demographic Groups - 1/21/2000's Different Overdose Changes Family - 1/22/2000 Phoenix Sting Paid Off for Cops - Part 6 - 1/21/2000 Led To Side Job as Arizona Drug Runner - 1/20/2000 Methods Have Place in Fight - 1/19/2000 Contest of Wits at U.S. Border - 1/18/2000 is Pipeline for Illegal Drugs - 1/17/2000 Losing Drug War - 1/16/2000 
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