The future is bright for moms and babies, thanks to new funding for addiction program


State officials have extended funding to continue a unique, specialized program that helps pregnant women and new mothers – who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – recover from addiction in Mercer County.

The new funding – totaling $1.2 million – will ensure that For My Baby and Me continues through June 2020. It also will allow the program to expand to serve more women and children.

“This helps us build capacity and is a real recognition of the state’s commitment to improving maternal and child health,” said Susan Loughery, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s director of operations (pictured, right, with Catholic Charities Executive Director Marlene Laó-Collins and First Lady of New Jersey Tammy Murphy, who visited the program in February as part of her maternal health initiative). “This program is making a big difference, and we hope to make it a permanent part of the system.”

A collaborative effort

Catholic Charities is one of six community partners on the program. Capital Health, which holds the state grant, provides prenatal, birth, and postnatal care for mothers and their babies. Catholic Charities provides addiction treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, support groups/counseling, and wraparound services. The other partners are HomeFront, which provides housing and wraparound services; the Rescue Mission of Trenton, which provides transportation; the Henry J. Austin Health Center, which provides addiction treatment; and the Trenton Health Team, which provides a 24/7 hotline for access and triage.

The program initially was funded by a six-month New Jersey State Department of Health grant that started in December 2017. Funding was extended for six months twice before being reduced by two thirds in March, throwing the future of the program into question.

The state also made partners whole for out-of-pocket money they spent while waiting for a funding decision; for Catholic Charities, that amounted to $155,000.

Proven success

The program has had consistently positive outcomes since its December 2017 start:

  • More than 60 women received services.
  • 14 babies were born, and most had no or shorter hospital stays for neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from drugs he or she was exposed to in the womb before birth.
  • Most of the babies have gone home from the hospital with their mothers. Typically, child protective workers take babies born to mothers struggling with addiction for foster care placement, but 12 of the infants born in the For My Baby and Me program were discharged with their mothers.

“There’s definitely a need for this program, and the need will only grow, as word gets out that this is a powerful option available for pregnant women and more seek our services,” said Lisa Merritt, Catholic Charities’ director of nursing (pictured, right). “Before, women didn’t enter recovery because they were scared they’d lose their kids. This program really has helped bash those barriers to treatment that have traditionally existed.”

The program was designed to move women through recovery to long-term stability. For that reason, it also provides supported employment/job coaching, supported permanent housing, childcare services, family trauma-focused mental health services, and basic needs such as medications, food, and clothing.

Babies benefit too

Mothers now in the program applauded the renewed funding as a crucial ingredient in ending an opioid epidemic that has claimed almost 1,400 lives from overdoses in the first half of this year alone.

“They are helping a lot of women here – and this program is good not only for the woman, but for her baby too,” said Anny (pictured, upper left), a mother who’s been with the program for four months.

Another program participant, LaToya (pictured, lower left), agreed: “This program brought my family back together and gave me a chance to be a mother again. I’m really glad they continued the program so other people will get to have the same treatment and opportunities I got here.”

For help, call (609) 256-7801. Staff are available 24 hours/7 days a week. See a video on For My Baby and Me below.

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