Perinatal program targets moms

November 05, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

Dodie Grigsby sat under a shady tree on the grounds of the Sheriff's Office in El Centro and told a story that would make the strongest among us weep.

Grigsby, 43, is a participant in the Imperial County Mental Health Services Perinatal Program.

The program aims to get mothers and mothers-to-be who are substance abusers back on track by involving them in a six-month course that provides life skills education through a variety of sources.

"I've been in jail about a dozen times," Grigsby said.

She went on to detail a childhood filled with abuse, a mother who offered her drugs when she was barely a teen-ager and a father who sold drugs to Charles Manson in the 1960s.

She's had six children, all adopted out and through her tears conceded she can't remember exactly how old the youngest child would be.


Three months into the program, Grigsby has begun to turn around her life.

"There are several ways of coming into the program," program supervisor Martha Singh said. "Our clients might come to us by court direction or probation mandate, or perhaps the Department of Social Services will direct them to complete our program as one of the conditions under which their children will be returned to them from state custody.

"And oftentimes women will come in voluntarily," Singh added.

Five days a week for the past three months Grigsby has driven her "$100 down, $50 a month" car to the center on Clark Road, ready to attend class promptly at 8:30 a.m. She's full of enthusiasm for the program, which she readily concedes has "saved her life."

When asked if the program is preparing her for a better future, Grisby smiled and said, "If it were not for this program, I would not have a future. … I'd be back in prison".

The program is divided into four phases, with each phase lasting from 30 to 45 days.

If participants have children under school age, they are encouraged to bring the children each day. The children are cared for in a friendly and informal child-care center on the grounds.

"Our child-care center is run on a co-operative basis. We expect each mother to be active in helping care for the children," said D.J. Shipman, a substance abuse counselor with the program.

An important part of phase one of the program is dealing with the denial the participants bring.

"Many times we use denial as part of our defense system in life" Singh said. "We have women who come here who have had their children taken from them by the state, are homeless and are perhaps on probation … and they still believe they don't have a problem".

Typically in classes of 12 to 18 participants, the women are taught life skills that might be as simple as learning to write a grocery list or prepare their children a nutritional meal.

Shipman noted that she is seeing more second- and third- generation drug users coming into the program.

"Substance abuse has become a way of life for these women and their families. It is the norm for a parent to give their child on their 14th or 15th birthday their own kit which will include a hypodermic needle, a spoon … and then they teach them to use it," she said.

There is intense focus on alcohol and drug education and participants must attend at least one Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting per week.

Participants are expected to submit to drug testing and to remain "clean" through each phase of the program. Shipman stressed that federal confidentiality regulations are strictly observed and no drug- testing information is shared with other government agencies.

There are field trips during each phase of the program. Sometimes it might be something as simple as a picnic in the mountains or a tour of Imperial Valley College. For many of the women, it will be the first time they have stepped onto a college campus.

In the final phase of the program, participants are helped to make plans for going back to school or securing a job.

Grigsby, meanwhile, is already making plans for her new life.

"I'm proud of myself now and when I graduate from here, I want to get married to my boyfriend. I'm going to invite my arresting officer, my probation officer and everyone from here at Perinatal to my wedding" she said with a big grin.

To learn more about the program you can call 337-7767.

Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337- 3442 or

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