Families First

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Bill Moyers explores the human services system in America as it works to help families stay together.


JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD Family Court, Louisville, Kentucky: I’ve been a judge since 1976. I have placed children in care of the State of Kentucky who have died in care. I have placed children at home who have been injured. There is nobody in this system who is infallible.

KATRINA PLATO, Art Therapist: What were some other things that were going on at home, besides the drugs?

DANNY WEST: (Connie West’s little boy) I used to play with matches and played with lighters and set things on fire.

DIANE GLOVER: (single mother) I’ve given up on life and now, it’s just so visible that they’re going to take my children.

SINGLE MOTHER: Tommy’s attitude is — ain’t worth a darn. He don’t do anything, you know. He’s not even going to school. He hasn’t been going to school for the last two or three days. He’s running the streets. Now he’s got a BB gun.

GUY THOMPSON, Trainer, Families First, Michigan: Most of our families haven’t really been empowered. They’re very isolated, many times very overwhelmed, and many times, the families that we’re working with, no one has necessarily listened to what they hue to say. It’s been assumed that other people hue known what was best for them.

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) Did you kids think you might have to look somewhere else? Did you get scared?

SHAMIKA BROOKS: (daughter of Juanita Brooks) Weil, I wasn’t really worried about that. I just didn’t want to leave my mom.

GARY STANGLER, Director of Social Services for the State of Missouri: Our business has to -be strengthening families, putting responsibility on families.

SELMAWESLEY, Family Preservation Worker, St. Louis: And I am your support person.

BILL MOYERS: You’re the extended family?

SELMA WESLEY: I am an extended family.

BILL MOYERS: You’re creating a new extended family!


SUSAN KELLY, Director, Families Flint, Michigan: So instead of punishing them by taking their children or by making them think that they’re bad, why not see if there’s something positive we can do so that their children and their children’s children won’t have the same reality face them in future generations?

BILL MOYERS: In this report, families in crisis and a new strategy to help them. I’m Bill Moyers.

GEORGE MILLER, (D-California): The current situation is that a half a million children are being ground up in the system with inappropriate placements and with inadequate services. And it’s a waste of the public’s resources, and it’s a waste of those children’s lives.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Every day we hear stories of children living separated from their families in foster care or juvenile facilities.

1ST REPORTER: — to a temporary foster home —

2ND REPORTER: This youngster was covered with scars, burns, bruises —

BILL MOYERS: The media report the extreme cases of child abuse, reminding us again and again of why kids must sometimes be removed from homes in crisis. We don’t hear as often of the poverty that leads the state to take custody of children. In some cities, 25 percent of the children in foster care are there because of abysmal housing.

DEBORAH MOORE, Family Preservation Worker, St. Louis, Missouri: Most of the families I work with, they’re wonderful families and they’re going to lose their kids because of a ridiculous reason. Housing is a ridiculous reason to lose your children.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Along with the rise in poverty, the drug epidemic has contributed to a dramatic increase in child abuse and neglect.

CHILD WELFARE WORKER: (on telephone) You saw the mother beating the child with a belt —

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Child welfare agencies and the foster care system are overwhelmed.

REPORTER, KCBS-TV, Los Angeles: Many of these workers have upwards of 75 cases.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) More than half of children in foster care are kept away from home for a year or more.

SOCIAL WORKER: The child’s never gone to the same school more than one week at a time, other than —

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Some will have 15 or more homes while they grow up. Some will never again live with any permanent family.

SPOKESMAN: It’s often tied to an issue of money.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Last year, the foster care system cost American taxpayers more than $9 billion. And even in the best of foster care, where children find a safe haven, there is a human cost impossible to measure, the pain of separation and loss.

SUSAN KELLY, Director, Families First, Michigan: You might have the experience, as I did, to watch a child being taken away from his or her mother and the baby stands at the window and looks for her mom and every day she won’t talk to anyone there. She won’t eat, can’t eat. So will that child have to stay there forever? Sometimes they do. But does that hurt? Always, always.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) There’s a growing realization across the country about the human cost of splitting up families. Out of this realization has come a new way of doing social work with families in crisis. It’s an alternative to the automatic removal of children from the home. Its aim is to remove the risks, not the child. And while it is proving less costly to taxpayers, it is also helping us to recover the value of putting families first. The social and economic conditions that feed children into foster care show no signs of relenting. State and local agencies are simply unable to arrange enough adoptions or supervise foster homes adequately. So more and more, they are turning to what began as a pilot project and is now being tried in at least 30 states. It started out under the name of Homebuilders and It now goes by a different name in different places. But whatever the name, the goal is the same, to keep families together. For this report, we went to Missouri, Kentucky, and Michigan, three states that have made a major commitment to this approach to families. We met families in crisis who told us their stories and we met this new breed of social worker who believes that troubled families can change. That belief doesn’t blind them to reality. There will always be some children who can only find security outside the home. But as you’ll see in our report, parents and kids can learn to create a safe haven at home.

JAMIE ADASHEK, Family Preservation Worker, St. Louis: This family was in a major crisis. They lost control. There was chaos and a lot of screaming what is no.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Jamie Adashek is a new kind of social worker who was called into Connie West’s St. Louis home at a time of crisis. When she arrived in the spring of 1991, the Department of Family Services was about to take Connie’s children and put them in foster care.

JAMIE ADASHEK: By the time I got here, she was hitting her kids, eight to twenty-eight times a day was the way we phrased It in the beginning. And Danny started bringing home pictures of skulls and crossbones and telling Connie he was going to kill her.

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) You mean 10-year-old Danny was threatening you, threatening to kill you?

CONNIE WEST: It was really chaotic. I wasn’t sleeping because he was threatening to kill me when I was sleeping. And It got to the point where I was locking him out of the basement and making him sleep upstairs with my mom because I thought if you’re going to come at me, you’re going to do It when I’m awake. I was afraid to let Ashley in the same room alone with him because he’d hurt her. He was always thumping on her. I couldn’t trust him. I didn’t know what he was going to do. The day before Jamie came in he was sitting in a chair right over here and he says, now I know why my dad left you. And I said, yeah, why is that, and he said, ’cause you’re such a bitch. And before I knew it, I punched him.

BILL MOYERS: You could have hurt him badly.

CONNIE WEST: Yeah. I could have that night and not thought another thing about it at that point.

BILL MOYERS: What was going on here?

JAMIE ADASHEK: That’s when she asked for help.

CONNIE WEST: So I called the DFS worker and it’s like, look, I’m at rope’s end, you people got to help us.

JAMIE ADASHEK: The DFS worker had already decided that this wasn’t going to work but they would give Family Preservation a chance.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Connie wanted to keep her kids. She had already lost them once before to foster care. When Danny was six and Ashley two, the Division of Family Services removed them because of drug activity in the home and recurring neglect of the children.

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) How long were the kids gone?

CONNIE WEST: Three and a half years.

BILL MOYERS: What did you do during that time?

CONNIE WEST: Became a drug addict.

BILL MOYERS: And how did you get them back?

CONNIE WEST: I went to treatment on January 9, 1989. That was after a six hour rape and beating. And I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.

BILL MOYERS: That’s when these pictures were taken?

CONNIE WEST: Yeah. Those were taken the night of my rape and the beating that I had.

JAMIE ADASHEK: But that was like, I want you to know that was Connie’s, what, second, third time going into rehab —

CONNIE WEST: Third time in rehab.

JAMIE ADASHEK: — and they said, oh, Connie, you’re not ready, are you?

BILL MOYERS: So the state said you weren’t fit to be a mother.

CONNIE WEST: Right. At that point in time I was denied visitation. I couldn’t talk to my kids on the phone. I couldn’t write ’em letters. I couldn’t visit. I had no contact with them at all for about a year and a half. That was real hard on Danny, and Danny couldn’t understand why and my mom finally told him the truth about his mom. And she explained everything to him and told him, your mom’s a junkie, you know, and she sticks a needle in her arm every day because she can’t deal with life. When I went into treatment this time I knew it was either do it or die.

BILL MOYERS: Did you quit?

CONNIE WEST: I couldn’t do it anymore. I haven’t touched anything mind altering, mood altering, any kind or chemical since January 9, 1989.

BILL MOYERS: And that’s why the state eave you back the kids?

CONNIE WEST: I started going to court. I got my visitation rights back, started out supervised, and then It was supervised by my mom. Then I started getting Danny on weekends and then they brought Ashley. I started getting her for overnights and they put me under court order to do a lot or different things. And I completed that court order.

ASHLEY WEST: (talking to mother) I’m crabby.

CONNIE WEST: (talking to Ashley) Why are you crabby? Why are you crabby?

ASHLEY WEST: It’s hot, and I’m sweating.

CONNIE WEST: Well, you know what I did?


CONNIE WEST: Turned the air conditioner. It won’t be so hot in here now. What do you think?


BILL MOYERS: You really wanted ’em back, didn’t you?

CONNIE WEST: I was determined by that point in time, It’s like, look, I’m comin’ back, you know. These are my kids. And I was promisin’ Danny, hang in there just a little bit longer, you’re comin’ home.

BILL MOYERS: But did you expect that after you got them back you’d have as hard a time with them as you did?

CONNIE WEST: No, I didn’t expect that at all.

JAMIE ADASHEK: Her children have been through a lot of the things Connie’s been through. They’ve been sexually molested, sexually abused, Ashley by two different people.

BILL MOYERS: in foster care?


JAMIE ADASHEK: Mm hmm. This family was in a major crisis. They lost control. They needed to learn some basic skills, to hue structure and to love each other and bond back together. They’d been apart for three and a half years and were only together ten months. And they needed to get organized. They were in total chaos.

BILL MOYERS: Weren’t you taking a real risk when you left the kids with a mother clearly distraught, clearly without parental skills, with the record that she had?

JAMIE ADASHEK: She wanted it to work. She wanted her kids. She wanted help. That’s what it is. And she was just missing the skills that she needed.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean, skills?

JAMIE ADASHEK: I mean parenting, basic parenting skills.

BILL MOYERS: Knowing how to discipline without harming, without physical —

JAMIE ADASHEK: Right. Physical discipline doesn’t have to have happen.

BILL MOYERS: Jamie’s job was to help them learn to live as a family. It’s the kind of help a regular social worker can’t provide. For one. thing, Jamie was available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, no further away than a beeper. Unlike other Missouri social workers who carry up to thirty family caseloads, she works with only two families at a time. This means that Jamie was there when she was needed, helping with Danny’s unruly behavior, as well as teaching Connie responsible ways to discipline.

JAMIE ADASHEK: She would call our office and say they won’t go to school. They want to stay home. And we taught her like how to make a game out of it, you know, I’ll do the dishes and you get dressed and let’s see who gets done first.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) One of the skills Jamie taught Connie was how to keep behavior charts.

CONNIE WEST: He has to brush his teeth, eats meals pleasant, doesn’t hit Ashley, no attitudes with adults, puts clothes where they belong, cleans room, is where supposed to be outside, takes directions, does chores with no attitudes, pleasant bath and bed time. This is his newest one and it’s his biggest one, takes responsibility for own actions, because it’s always everybody else’s fault. We make him mad.

ASHLEY WEST: Mom, what’s attitudes mean?

CONNIE WEST: I’ll explain it later, okay, but it’s —

ASHLEY WEST: Oa, da, da (making noise with small toy car in her mouth)

CONNIE WEST: Hey, take that in the other room. Me and Jamie are talking.

ASHLEY WEST: Okay. I’ll go in the other room.

CONNIE WEST: Thank you.

JAMIE ADASHEK: (talking to Ashley) See you later.

CONNIE WEST: He doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions. It’s always, you made me mad, or Ashley made me mad. It’s never

JAMIE ADASHEK: Why are those three little lines here?

CONNIE WEST: Because I take off a point every time he yells it’s somebody else’s fault. All right. ‘Cause like on his privileges, he has to 450 points to have, you know, weekend thing, to get to go do things. He has to have 425 points for a friend to spend the night.

JAMIE ADASHEK: Well, and he hasn’t had snacks like his whole — in two weeks.

CONNIE WEST: Right. He has to have 325 points to stay up late. He has to go to bed at 8:30 tonight.

JAMIE ADASHEK: Maybe he’s stressed out because the structure’s changing again, because he had time off from school.

CONNIE WEST: And you kind of change.

JAMIE ADASHEK: And he changed. And when structure changes, and now he’s going to school, he’s back in school, it’s fall, and when — Ashley, what are you doing?

ASHLEY WEST: I found some —

JAMIE ADASHEK: But you can’t have any more of those, remember?

CONNIE WEST: You didn’t even ask, did you?

JAMIE ADASHEK: You didn’t ask.

CONNIE WEST: So you Just lost another point.

JAMIE ADASHEK: Can I have those, please.

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) All these rules on the board; “What part of no don’t you understand?” on the kitchen wall; why so much discipline?

CONNIE WEST: Because my kids need discipline. I wasn’t a mom before. They never had it. And that’s what got us to trouble.

BILL MOYERS: And discipline is part of being a mom?

CONNIE WEST: Yeah, it is.

JAMIE ADASHEK: There were three parents living here. One was five years old, one was —


JAMIE ADASHEK: — ten years old and one was twenty-eight years old.

BILL MOYERS: What have you learned about being a parent?

CONNIE WEST: From Jamie, I learned how to set limits, learned how to do time-outs instead of punching them.

BILL MOYERS: Time out?

CONNIE WEST: Time-outs. If they get in trouble, I will — if they do something that I don’t like and they know the rules around here and if they break one of the rules, I will warn ’em once. and the second time I put ’em in a chair for 10 minutes or put ’em in a corner with their hands behind their back for 10 minutes.

BILL MOYERS: The old standing in the corner technique.


CONNIE WEST: (talking to children) I’m not putting you there to play. I’m putting you there because you can’t mind.

ASHLEY WEST: We’ll mind.

CONNIE WEST: Well, I know you will after the time-out. If not, we’ll go back in the corner again. I’m starting the time and when the first time goes off, Ashley, you come out. Then, Danny, I’ll start It over, then you come out, and Ronnie, you don’t come out until I tell you to, until your timer goes off, all right?


CONNIE WEST: All right.

JAMIE ADASHEK: But Ashley, I mean, she couldn’t make It four minutes in the beginning.

CONNIE WEST: Two minutes.

JAMIE ADASHEK: She’d take the timer and throw It at Connie.

CONNIE WEST: And she slapped me across the face when I put in her a time-out and she’s, like, no, I’m not doing that.

BILL MOYERS: Your daughter slapped you?

CONNIE WEST: Yeah. She slapped me across the face one of the first times. Jamie, I called her and it’s like, I’m going to kill her, she just hit me, and Jamie’s like, I’m on my way.

JAMIE ADASHEK: (talking to child) I heard that you were getting to be too lazy and —

JAMIE ADASHEK: (voice-over) It was interesting, because once the structure started and once we told the kids, we did say to the kids, your mom shouldn’t be hitting you and you need to help her with that. Ashley and I have talked in the car. We would go, I would take them for time-outs, we would go get Ice cream, we would go for a ride, and Ashley said it’s really good mommy talks instead of hitting. And what happened pretty quickly is Danny had structure like he has at school every day. The behavior sort of shut down.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Danny attends Edgewood Children’s Center for kids with emotional and behavioral problems. He was diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder and being hyperactive.

KATRINA PLATO, Art Therapist: In the past, what was your family like in the past, before Jamie came to visit? What were some of the issues that your family was working with? Or, let’s see —

DANNY WEST: My mom was working at staying off drugs.

KATRINA PLATO: Okay. Draw a picture of your mother.

DANNY WEST: (Danny drawing picture) My mom’s back here saying no thanks.

KATRINA PLATO: She’s saying no thanks? (Danny nodding) No thanks for what?


KATRINA PLATO: So this is your mother here and she wants some drugs?

DANNY WEST: No. That’s my mom.

KATRINA PLATO: Okay. And who is this?

DANNY WEST: That’s some other guy askin’ her.

KATRINA PLATO: And how did you feel about that when they’d come over?

DANNY WEST: I didn’t like ’em.

KATRINA PLATO: Were you able to tell your mom that?


KATRINA PLATO: And what did she do?

DANNY WEST: She just got ’em out of her house, told ’em to stay out.


DANNY WEST: And she told ’em not to come back one more time.

KATRINA PLATO: Was this before she ended the drugs, or after?


KATRINA PLATO: What about before then, in the past, before she said that?

DANNY WEST: She used to say yes.

KATRINA PLATO: Yes, that they could come in, or yes —

DANNY WEST: They could come in and do drugs with her.

KATRINA PLATO: How about you, how were you then?

DANNY WEST: I was a total terror.

KATRINA PLATO: You were a terror?

DANNY WEST: (nodding head)

KATRINA PLATO: What sort of things did you do at home? How were you a terror?

DANNY WEST: I used to play with matches and played with lighters and set things on fire.

KATRINA PLATO: Can you draw a picture of yourself doing some of the things that you did?

DANNY WEST: Here’s me throwing the match.

KATRINA PLATO: You’re so small.

DANNY WEST: I was only, what, six years old.

KATRINA PLATO: You were six years old then?

DANNY WEST: Yeah. I used to throw matches in the dumpsters and set the dumpsters on fire. Then in the future I’d want to be like a great family.

KATRINA PLATO: Okay. What would a great family look like?

DANNY WEST: Never fighting.

KATRINA PLATO: Okay. So can you draw what a great family would look like? So you think this is a realistic future, that you can get here?

DANNY WEST: We can get there if we want to.

KATRINA PLATO: Do you want to?


KATRINA PLATO: Do you think your mother wants to?

DANNY WEST: I know she does. She’s been saying, why don’t we get our acts together and get a good family.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Danny’s family is changing. First, Connie’s mother moved out. Then Ron, the man she plans to marry, and his teenage daughter moved in. And on this particular weekend, his other two kids are sleeping over.

CONNIE WEST: Ron comes in. He’s, you know, on the road all week so he comes in on the weekends, but he’s not always home. It’s kind of like being a single mom most of the time.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) With five kids under foot this weekend, the skills Connie learned from Jamie seemed to be paying off. And if it looks as if for a period Jamie became part of Connie’s extended family, that’s an accurate image. For six weeks, they have worked together intensely, with Jamie becoming teacher, therapist, advocate and guide.

JAMIE ADASHEK: Part of what we were talking about before is advocacy and learning to —

BILL MOYERS: Here in St. Louis, Jamie and her colleagues are celebrating their first anniversary of jumpstarting families.

SELMA WESLEY, Family Preservation Worker, St. Louis: And support those families and support those parents and let them know we know you’re trying, we know that you’re doing the best that you can do, and I understand where you’re coming from, and I can empathize with you.

BILL MOYERS: Based in public and private agencies, these social workers are helping beleaguered adults learn how to parent so that their children can stay safely at home.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) What did you learn from your work about families in crisis in America?

SUSAN STEPLETON, Executive Director, Edgewood Children’s Center: One thing is that they’re much stronger than they’ve been given credit for, that if they can be given a little bit of the right kind of help at the right time, families have enormous resources to draw on. So that’s one thing. Another thing I think is a real consciousness about the way society devalues families.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

SUSAN STEPLETON: There is not a lot of help for families out there, for any families. And we don’t support child care. We don’t support education. We don’t support mental health services that all families could use. So it’s kind of a contrast. Families do have strengths, but as a society, we don’t help them a lot.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Missouri’s director of social services, Gary Stangler, has expanded family preservation throughout the state and now champions it nationally.

GARY STANGLER, Director of Social Services for State of Missouri: Picture this very tall mountain with a community at the top. And it’s a thriving community and everything is going very well and there’s not much need for contact with the external world. It’s a fairly self-contained environment. And they have one problem. And that is that they are on top of the hill and children occasionally fall off the cliff. And they fall down and become injured. And so eventually, the community leaders got together and said, well, we’ve got to grapple with this problem; what are we going to do about our children who keep getting hurt? And they come up with a classic governmental response. They build a hospital at the bottom of the cliff. The fact is we do that so often in our social programs. We build a hospital at the bottom of the hill. Family Preservation Services is a piece of a fence at the top of the hill. It’s not “the” fence. It is a piece of the fence. But it is a piece of the fence that —

GARY STANGLER: (talking to Mr. Moyers) The federal government structure is completely devoted to the out of home care side.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) Taking the kids out of the home?

GARY STANGLER: As soon as I take the child out of the home I will begin to earn federal money for the cost of caring for that child.

BILL MOYERS: The· federal government will pay part of the cost. What is It, half the cost?

GARY STANGLER: The federal government will pay half the cost if I put ’em in foster care. If I put ’em in a mental institution or psychiatric institution, or other hospital, they’re going to pay 60 percent of the cost in this state. All of the federal incentives are in the institutional side. What I’m trying to do is explain to the federal government (a) that the policy direction of the federal government ought to be toward family strength and family responsibility.

BILL MOYERS: Keeping the family together even though the family is deeply in trouble?

GARY STANGLER: Even though the family is deeply in trouble, we can’t substitute for that family. We just can’t. Government is not good at that. Government is a good protector. It is not a good provider. We are not good at being the true parents of that child. What we need are the incentives from the federal government to be on the side of keeping families together.

BILL MOYERS: The popular image of a child going to a foster home is of a kid that has a maimed face, has been abused, sexually assaulted, by a father or a mother. Why, why do you want to take that child and put it back into the home where it’s in harm’s way?

GARY STANGLER: This is the single most troublesome issue we confront, because that’s true. In the popular mind we’ve done a good job in the child abuse field of portraying that. I mean, we’ve done this to ourselves. The mental image, if you ask anybody to think of child abuse, they’re going to think of that maimed and beaten child. The fact of the matter is there is no substitute for a family. Too many times we don’t do kids a favor by putting them in foster care. And our history is full of stories of abuse in foster homes and even fatalities, kids killed in foster homes. We can’t construct an alternative family system to replace a real family system.

BILL MOYERS: It sounds almost too good to be true. I believe It. I’ve seen It. But you do, you do have some failures, don’t you?

JAMIE ADASHEK: Mm hmm. I used to take It real personally, but there are Just some people that can’t keep it together and they shouldn’t, because It’s not the best place for the kid and there is all alternative somewhere. And I want people to be safe and be happy and thrive in a family.

CONNIE WEST: He’s not threatening to burn down the house. He’s not threatening suicide. Those are big changes. He still threatens to run away. Every time he gets mad he packs his back pack but he don’t go nowhere.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think your kids have a chance now?

CONNIE WEST: Yeah, I do.

BILL MOYERS: What do you see for their future?

CONNIE WEST: What do I see for their future? Happiness, for one. You know, I see them, that has a mother that would do anything for ’em. They come first.

BILL MOYERS: You’re not going to let ’em go again?

CONNIE WEST: No. There is nobody that can walk in my house and call me an unfit mother again.

GUY THOMPSON, Trainer, Homebuilders: (speaking to a group of people in training session) One of the main things that we do is we do not police families. We don’t go in. We’re not an investigative type of program.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) This new approach to working with families is called “Homebuilders.” The philosophy and techniques of the movement have spread across the country through training workshops. Here is some Homebuilders gospel according to Guy Thompson, a trainer in Michigan.

GUY THOMPSON: How many times have you heard of workers going in, simply sitting down, walking through the house? Well, do you have any beds in here? Where are the children sleeping? Okay. May I come in? May I sit down? That is powerful enough. This is that family’s home. You, indeed, are a guest. You’re there to help. But they have to want the help and work along with you. And that’s what you’re building now. When they ask, well, are you a social worker, well, yes, I’m a social worker, but I’m here as a helper. Another statement. Well, how do I know that you’re not going to take my children? Well, no, my job is not to take your children. Indeed, your worker, Mrs. Jones, called my program because when she came and visited you, she saw something special to make her believe that with some assistance you could keep your family together. Okay.

BILL MOYERS: Michigan has the most extensive Homebuilders program called “Families First.” Here trainers have specialties.

KAREN VERLINDEN, Worker, Families First, Adrian, Michigan: (Instructing colleagues on how to use calk) Thread this up, push this up as high as It’ll go, and hand tighten this one. Okay?

BILL MOYERS: Karen Verlinden, a Families First caseworker with a building license teaches some of her colleagues concrete skills they, in turn, will pass on to poor families.

KAREN VERLINDEN:(instructing colleagues how to put screens in windows) You need to get your groove in the screen, remember?

COLLEAGUE: Oh, that’s right.

KAREN VERLINDEN:There you go. Give it some room. Okay. There you go. Now keep working It back and forth. We’re going to hire you full-time. We’re going to send our screens to your agency. Okay. .

FRED HARRIS: (with Juanita Brooks, a client) See, we have a window here that’s broken out and another window here that’s going to need some repairing. And we’ve got quite a bit of chipping paint around here on the sides that we were concerned about and we didn’t want the children to get any of this in their mouth.

BILL MOYERS: Fred Harris is a Families First worker In Detroit. Harris has just begun to work with Juanita Brooks and her family.

FRED HARRIS: Little Eric, who’s always around, and try to make sure things are going well.

BILL MOYERS: Brooks was about to lose her kids because of environmental neglect.

FRED HARRIS: Also, the basement, there’s quite a bit of flooding and some plumbing problems down there?


FRED HARRIS: Has that been there since you —



FRED HARRIS: (voice-over) What we have is a single parent mom who has five children with ages ranging from thirteen, eight, six, four and two.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Originally from Alabama and with little support from family or friends, Brooks is at the mercy of a landlord who has not made standard repairs. A Child Protective Service worker told Brooks she must bring her house up to code in order to keep her children.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita Brooks about house) Well, we have two here that we’re going to be repairing and we’re also going to be doing some painting in here.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) This means that Juanita Brooks could have lost her children because of peeling paint, broken windows and faulty plumbing. And on the day we visited, the power was off in half the house because of flooding in the basement.

JUANITA BROOKS: (In bathroom) They’s stopped up.

FRED HARRIS: You may have to get a plumber out here to take a look at that, because I’m not too knowledgeable of plumbing. But It sounds like you really may

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) From listening to Juanita, Fred knows there are other problems too.

FRED HARRIS: The client recently lost her newborn child in early April. It looks like this woman is suffering from somewhat of depression and just the grieving process that is involved in losing a child.

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) Let’s see. Your name is

SHAMIKA BROOKS: Shamika Brooks.

BILL MOYERS: And you’re how old?


BILL MOYERS: Thirteen. What grade are you in?


BILL MOYERS: How are you doing in school?

SHAMIKA BROOKS: I’m doing fine.

BILL MOYERS: What grades do you make?


BILL MOYERS: A’s and Bs. Are you an honor student?


BILL MOYERS: You are? Good. Preschool?

ERIC BROOKS: Preschool.

BILL MOYERS: Preschool. I see. And your name is —

ALICIA BROOKS: Alicia Brooks.

BILL MOYERS: Alicia, how old are you?


BILL MOYERS: Eight. And what grade are you in?


BILL MOYERS: Are you a good student?

ALICIA BROOKS: (Nodding head)

BILL MOYERS: What kind of grades are you making?


BILL MOYERS: A’s and B’s. Well, that’s very good. And your name is


BILL MOYERS: Willeta. Are you doing well in school?

WILLETA BROOKS: (nodding head)

BILL MOYERS: Pretty good, huh? Good.

BILL MOYERS: (talking to Fred Harris) When you got here and looked around, did you think, well, these children should be in a foster home, they should be somewhere that’s safe and warm?

FRED HARRIS: My initial feeling when I first came here because I’ve done this quite a bit was to look at the character and the personality of the client. Did it appear as though she was serious about trying to get herself together? Did she seem as though she really wanted help and was this just an unfortunate situation? And I think that was the case here, because since coming out and talking with Mrs. Brooks and teaching her some things and being supportive and understanding, she’s been coming around and responding exceptionally well. In fact, she’s responded better than the average family that we ordinarily see. (FRED HARRIS CARRYING GLASS WINDOW PANE INTO JUANITA BROOKS’ HOUSE)

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Of the two and a half million reports of child abuse and neglect that are flied annually, more than half are from neglect alone. In Juanita’s case, neglect means the failure to provide adequate and safe shelter for her children. For other families, It can mean the failure to provide enough food, clothing or medical care. (FRED HARRIS CARRYING PAINT INTO JUANITA BROOK’S HOUSE)

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita and handing per cans of paint) Here we got yellow, pink and sky blue like you asked for.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita Brooks) We have to get things in order so that the children have a really safe and clean place to live. So we’re going to go ahead and get started on this. And in the meantime, hopefully, we’ll be trying to contact this property owner to see exactly what the situation is.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita Brooks’ little boy) Eric, you’re going to learn how to fix windows today. (talking to Juanita and demonstrating how to replace window) Okay. What I’m doing here is the putty that’s holding the window, this holds the window in place and what I’m doing is removing the putty. As you remove the putty —

BILL MOYERS: Today Fred teaches Juanita how to replace one of her windows so she’ll be able to do the others on her own.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita’s little boy) You know what we’re doing, Eric?


FRED HARRIS: What are we doing?

ERIC BROOKS: Fixing the window.

FRED HARRIS: Fixing the window?


FRED HARRIS: One day you’re going to be able to do this for your mom, right?


FRED HARRIS: So she wouldn’t have to do It.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita) Okay. Normally, when you’re going to be doing this, you’ll probably put the children to sleep or something so you don’t have to worry about It.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) It may seem subtle, but while Fred is working on the window, he is also modeling parenting behavior for Juanita and her kids. (LITTLE BOYS FIGHTING)

BOY: (shouting) Don’t do that!

JUANITA BROOKS: (talking to her little boy) You said you were going to be a good boy today.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita) See that putty along down there. Take the putty knife. (ERIC YELLING AS ANOTHER CHILD TAKES PAINT BRUSH FROM HIM)

FRED HARRIS: You could let him — let him play with the paint brush.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) And during the six weeks Fred works with Juanita, he’ll also deal with her depression.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita) All right, Juanita, you and I will have to open up another business.

FRED HARRIS: (voice-over) So we’re going to try to work in those areas of building self-esteem and encouraging her and just overall trying to re-motivate her to get back up and continue providing good care to her children.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Juanita) Why don’t you let me take It from here and move the children out because that glass may start to fall.

COLLEAGUE: (In meeting with Fred Harris) Could you advocate with the landlord to assist you In having some of these repairs done, such as the broken windows, and the plumbing, you know?

FRED HARRIS: (talking to colleagues) I tried to contact the landlord and you guys know how that can be sometimes with some of these landlords.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Fred Harris is based at Boysville, a social service agency in Detroit. Once a week, Harris and his colleagues meet to discuss the families they’re working with, trading experiences and resources. They deal with the family’s immediate needs, as well as Its long-term plans and goals.

COLLEAGUE: I know that It’s a kind of touchy situation, topic to discuss, but what is she going to do about some type of birth control? She has five children and just lost a newborn in April.

FRED HARRIS: That’s a concern. That’s a valid concern.

COLLEAGUE: You know, the reason why I ask is because you say she has the Initiative and the motivation to go back to school and get her GED and probably pursue some other kind of career, but if she’s going to continue to add children, that’s going to be difficult for her. That’s why I asked. (JUANITA BROOKS’ LITTLE BOY WATCHING TELEVISION)

BILL MOYERS: What did you do in here? (Juanita Brooks giving Bill Moyers tour of the renovated house)

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Within a few days and with a little help from neighbors, Juanita had painted all the rooms and replaced all her windows.

BILL MOYERS: (talking to Juanita) This window was broken too?


FRED HARRIS: (voice-over) She did most of the painting, in fact, all of it just about. I came out one day and showed her out to put the windows in and I also got her the paint and the different materials that she needed. And when I came back, she was going to work on it. So it wasn’t a case where we came in and gave her the things that she needed. She also put forth some effort and some work.

BILL MOYERS: (talking to Juanita) So the landlord wouldn’t fix them?

JUANITA BROOKS: No. He’d say he wasn’t responsible.

FRED HARRIS: (voice-over) When Youth Protective Services came out, she happened to be going through a really difficult time, just the overall stress and pressure of trying to operate from a low income budget. Sometimes It can be depressing and sometimes you can lose motivation.

BILL MOYERS: (talking to Juanita Brooks’ children) Did you kids think you might have to go somewhere else? Old you get scared?

SHAMIKA BROOKS: Well, I wasn’t really worried about that. I just didn’t want to leave my mom.

BILL MOYERS: So you’re glad you didn’t have to go?


BILL MOYERS: What would you have done if they had said, but you have to go, It’s for your good?

SHAMIKA BROOKS: I wouldn’t have no other choice.

ERIC BROOKS: No (mumbling).

BILL MOYERS: You did too, you didn’t want to go?

ERIC BROOKS: (Nodding)

JUANITA BROOKS: My kids are my life. They’re Important and I know that I have to do these things to keep them together, keep them with me. So I just do what I have to do.

FRED HARRIS: (talking to Mr. Moyers) A lot of women may have given up, may have not even tried to put forth an effort to try to get their house in order and to try to maintain their children. Many women today give their children up or are on drugs. This woman hasn’t turned to drugs. She’s in here day to day fighting and trying to maintain and keep her family. And I think that is a sense of power and I think that it needs to be built on and It needs to be recognized.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) Why did you choose this kind of work?

FRED HARRIS: Well, I grew up, I guess you could say that I grew up in a low income family where there was a single parent and where we had to stick together in order to make it through hard times.

BILL MOYERS: And you stayed together?

FRED HARRIS: We stayed together and we, throughout the circumstances, we had pride and determination and I think that the experience that we had is I guess more relative to what they’re going through. That’s why I probably could come here and believe more so than the average viewer that It can be done.

BILL MOYERS: Do you get any help from the father? after placement.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Judges are the gatekeepers of the foster care system. In their courtrooms, the decisions are made whether to remove children from their home.

JUANITA BROOKS: Mm-mm (shaking head no).

BILL MOYERS: So It’s just you?

JUANITA BROOKS: Yeah (nodding).

BILL MOYERS: And Fred Harris.

JUANITA BROOKS: Yeah (nodding).

BILL MOYERS: Do you feel like you’ve become the father of these kids?

FRED HARRIS: Well, uh —

BILL MOYERS: I heard you laugh. Do you think he’s a father to you?

SHAMIKA BROOKS: (holding little brother on her lap) I don’t think of him as a father, but I look to him as someone that helped my mother to keep us.

BILL MOYERS: Keep you together?

SHAMIKA BROOKS: Mm Hmm (nodding).

BILL MOYERS: A real friend?

SHAMIKA BROOKS: Mm Hmm (nodding).

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD, Family Court, Louisville, Kentucky: (in courtroom) So you’re requesting the issuance of a new bench warrant. Bench warrant served, issued a new bench warrant, released to CHR upon apprehension. Has the child been released already, or is she here?

SPOKESPERSON: She ran from a shelter house. She was placed, picked up, placed yesterday afternoon, and she ran about an hour

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD: I’m going to need the name of the line worker and supervisor so they can call when the child’s apprehended.

BILL MOYERS: It’s a system that has come under attack across the country because of Its failure to keep track of and protect children once they’re in foster care.

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD: (talking to Mr. Moyers) I’ve been a judge since J976. I have placed children in the care of the State of Kentucky who have died in care. I have placed children at home who have been injured. There is nobody in this system who is infallible.

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD: (In courtroom) There is also a video of the child’s testimony in chambers.

BILL MOYERS: Judge Richard Fitzgerald, who works in Family Court in Louisville, remembers especially one child who made headlines. It was the devastating story of Eugene D, a physically and mentally handicapped child who was severely neglected while In foster care for eight and a half years.

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD: (talking to Mr. Moyers) But It wasn’t a matter of just finger pointing at that foster home or the system. It was a recognition of that entire circle of affection of the state as parent had underserved this child, Eugene.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) Did you see him as a metaphor for the crisis that was happening in foster care?

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD: The children who scare me more than Eugene are the children who we never saw, the children, the child who would have been committed to the state at a young age as a dependent child, and then J0 years later you would have seen on the delinquency docket and when you went down and said, where have you been could give you a list of thirteen different foster homes the child had been in, or the child who had been in three foster) homes that year and was not linked with the school, but would come in front of you and they’d say the child is truant, that It wasn’t the high visibility cases. It was the children caught in drift without a significant other, without access to the courts and without review that scared me the most.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Judge Fitzgerald was instrumental in pioneering changes in the way courts deal with families in crisis. A major part of that reform means working closely with family preservation teams. It also means regular review of children in foster care.

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD: 80 percent of the kids go home. 80 percent of kids who were removed from their homes in America would go home. Sometimes they’d go home in ten days, sometimes they’d go home in thirty days, sometimes It would be a year, sometimes it would be three years, some children would linger in care for eighteen years, age out of the system, and then go home. If that percentage of the population is going home, the question is: Why are we not putting the resources into these under empowered and overstressed families who can be taught to manage risks of harm in the home?

WOMAN: You had AWOL’ed, I guess?

STEPHANIE SAUER: No. I got stranded and I had to spend the night somewhere. She knew where I was, but she still, she called my worker the next day and they arrested me that night when I came back home.

WOMAN: Okay.

BECKY SAUER: (Stephanie’s mother) If I would ground her, she would decide what day she wanted to be grounded, you know. If I grounded her for a week, she’d say, well, mom, I want to go do this today so I’ll be grounded tomorrow and I mean, there was nothing that I could do.

INSTRUCTOR: (teaching Stephanie on how to care for a baby) Stephanie, today we’re going to go over some things that we’ve done before to see how well you remember.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Of the 1,000 cases of abuse, neglect, and dependency that Judge Fitzgerald hears each year, less than 10 percent involve severe physical abuse. They’re more likely to be stories like Stephanie’s.

STEPHANIE SAUER: Me and my mom, we Just don’t get along at all. We just disagree on everything.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) Stephanie is fourteen years old and has a nine month old baby, Christa.

STEPHANIE SAUER: Anything, you know, from feedin’ what I want to feed to the baby or going where I want to go and so we just fight a lot.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) For several years, Stephanie has been locked into battle with her mother, Becky. And since her baby was born, Stephanie has been running away from home. So she ended up in court. That’s how Denice Price entered the fray. Trained by Homebuilders, Denice works out of an agency called “H.E.L.P.”

DENICE PRICE, Family Preservation Worker, H.E.L.P., Louisville, Kentucky: The first time that we met Stephanie actually we had planned on a home visit and I think you called and we had to postpone it, because Stephanie had AWOL’ed, or she was over at court. She was at JCYC —

BECKY SAUER: (nodding) Yeah.

DENICE PRICE: — which is the Jefferson County Youth Detention Center. And so her worker, Lisa Buller, called us and said Stephanie is going to be in court today, I think that the judge is probably going to place her outside of the home, probably in some residential facility or group home here in Jefferson County and could you all be present, and let the court know that you are going to be active with the family. And so what he did was agree to let Stephanie come home and be involved with the H.E.L.P. team.

DENICE PRICE: (talking to Stephanie) We’re interested in just finding out what your side of the story is.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) When we arrived, Denice was just beginning the intervention with Becky Sauer and her daughter, Stephanie initially, she simply listened.

DENICE PRICE: (talking to Stephanie) How long have you been running away from home or having problems with your mom?

STEPHANIE SAUER: Well, I don’t run away from home.

DENICE PRICE: Okay. Okay, I’m sorry

STEPHANIE SAUER: I don’t know why she tells everybody that. We’ve been having problems for about three years.

DENICE PRICE: Okay. Anything started out that you can think about, is that when Butch came to your house?

STEPHANIE SAUER: No. He’s been there for four years.


STEPHANIE SAUER: Me and my stepdad, we don’t get along.

DENICE PRICE: Now he’s out of the picture, right, he left?

STEPHANIE SAUER: He comes and goes.

DENICE PRICE: Okay. Do you — when you get mad — do you, is most of your anger verbalized, or do you get physical? And I’ve heard you say your mom threw a phone and you threw a baby bottle, so

STEPHANIE SAUER: Yeah. I throw things.


STEPHANIE SAUER: I don’t really get verbal. I throw things.

DENICE PRICE: (talking to Stephanie and her mother, Becky Sauer) One of the things that I’ve heard you talk about is that when, Stephanie does things that are frustrating or Irritating for you, you kind of stuff it, and then something happens again and you kind of stuff it.

BECKY SAUER: I’m good at stuffin’ it.

DENICE PRICE: And then something similar happens again and you tend to blow up.

BECKY SAUER: Well, It’s mostly, I do stuff a lot, but the problem comes in to where when Stephanie — the more out of control she becomes, the more out of control I become. But that’s after all this stuffing’s been going on.

DENICE PRICE: Okay. Well, when we do the communications skills, one of the things that I hope that you all will learn as a family is how to discontinue stuffing the feelings and be able to talk about them as they occur so that you don’t have as many blow-ups, okay?

BILL MOYERS: Denice begins as an interpreter between Stephanie and her mother. And then over a period of weeks, she’ll help them learn how to control their anger and express their emotions without fighting physically or running away.

DENICE PRICE: (talking to Stephanie) — to maybe process with you a little bit about what happened Friday, because I think since we’ve been involved that’s the first maybe major argument you and your mom have had.

STEPHANIE SAUER: There was like 10 minutes before the post office closed so I picked up the phone and I was on hold, they put me on hold, and my stepdad called in, and I handed It to her. I said, will you hurry ’cause, you know, I’m on the other line, and then she didn’t. I said, I’m on the other line. And she said, well, they just hung up. And then they got in an argument about that because he’s real nosey and wants to know what’s going on and they got in an argument and then she hung the phone up and threw It at me. And by that time it was already too late anyway for me to call the post office.

CINDY STREAT, Family Preservation Worker, H.E.L.P., Louisville, Kentucky: Can you remember kind of how, what calmed the situation down?

STEPHANIE SAUER: When I hung up, she started on about my boyfriend, because my boyfriend’s in a group home and he gets one phone call a week and she said, well, you just wait until Chris calls. And that really made me mad, because I don’t hang up on her. I just asked her to have him call her back in five minutes, you know.

DENICE PRICE: Where did you get involved at, Cindy? I’m not sure.

CINDY STREAT: Is that the time you called me?



BILL MOYERS: With some families, particularly those with troubled teens, Denice teams up with her colleague, Cindy Streat.

CINDY STREAT: (talking to Stephanie) Who was she angry at?

STEPHANIE SAUER: She acted like she was angry at me.

CINDY STREAT: You know that when you’re at your point that you and your mom are really arguing that you know that you need the time out to kind of put yourself into your room to get away from mother and to calm down so that maybe come back later to discuss the situation when you’re a little bit calmer. And you did the right thing on Friday evening. I’m glad that you called me.

DENICE PRICE: It sounds like in the past maybe you’d leave the house and It’d take maybe overnight to kind of cool off.

STEPHANIE SAUER: (nodding) Well, I was on house arrest this time. I’d get arrested again if I left the house.

DENICE PRICE: Okay. So in the past when you all have had arguments like that you would have left the house (Stephanie nodding) and stayed out to cool off and that’s what your mom refers to as running away, and then she’d call the police and okay, okay.

STEPHANIE SAUER: (nodding head)

DENICE PRICE: (with Becky and Stephanie at a table) So maybe you can think of something nice that each of you have experienced from each other and put It in this form of an “I” statement, I felt happy, or I felt proud, or I felt pleased, or It felt nice when you — you want to tell the time — well, any of the feelings that you can come up with.



STEPHANIE SAUER: It doesn’t have to be glad?

DENICE PRICE: No. You can come up with any.

STEPHANIE SAUER: (talking to her mother) I get angry when you get in a fight with somebody else and then you get mad at me, because it hurts my feelings.

DENICE PRICE: Is that okay that she said that?

BECKY SAUER: Sure, that’s fine.

DENICE PRICE: That’s great, Stephanie, nice job.

BECKY SAUER: I’ll tell you one.


BECKY SAUER: When we were having Cindy over the other night and we were playing the “UN” game, I had a question about how do I feel about being abused and I couldn’t answer It. And Stephanie answered It for me.


BECKY SAUER: And I felt good that she answered It when she answered it for me, because I knew that she did have insight on my feelings and she just, she didn’t completely drown me out all the time. She did know how I felt about a lot of things.

DENICE PRICE: Okay. Now, that’s a nice example and you did a nice Job, except you told that to me. Now, say it to her.

BECKY SAUER: I did say It to her (laughing)

DENICE PRICE: Well, in a roundabout way.

BECKY SAUER: (talking to Stephanie) I felt good when you answered the question for me because I knew then that you did know how I felt and I know that you don’t completely drown me out, that you do know how I feel about things, and you are listening sometimes.

DENICE PRICE: Great job.

BECKY SAUER: Now It’s your turn (nudging Stephanie).

DENICE PRICE: Great job.

DENICE PRICE: (talking to Stephanie alone) What are some of the feelings that you have that you could say to your mom?


DENICE PRICE: And I heard you say that last night. That was really nice that you told her that you think it’s unfair, that It makes you mad when she’s having a bad day that she takes It out on you all, and maybe when you come home from school and she looks like she’s having a bad day, maybe you can just tell her that right off the bat, you know (Stephanie nodding).

CINDY STREAT: (talking to Stephanie) And your family used to do a lot of things together as far as playing family games.


CINDY STREAT: What kind of changed on that? Do you remember?

STEPHANIE SAUER: Nothing goes on anymore, Just the TV goes, and that’s all. As long as she can sit in that chair where she stays all the time, and I guess you’ve seen it too, that’s the only place she ever is, is in that chair (Cindy Streat nodding).

DENICE PRICE: But, you know, a lot of the families that Cindy and I work with, the moms have maybe had some relationship problems with boyfriends or husbands and they have financial problems and they have other kinds of worries like your mom with her own mother’s, you know, illness, and they just get real overwhelmed and with those kind of stressors and it kind of paralyzes ’em. And I’m kind of wondering if maybe that’s happened with your mom some and she Just needs some people to help her get some energy again and get her interested in some outside things again. (BECKY AND STEPHANIE PLAYING WITH CHRISTA, WHO’S IN BABY SWING)

BILL MOYERS: A week later, Denice and Cindy helped Becky find a job as part of an effort to relieve her depression. This helped Becky, but made scheduling time with the family and the H.E.L.P. team more difficult. Stephanie was subsequently expelled from a special school for teenage mothers, but has since found day care for Christa and enrolled in another school. They are all still together under one roof.

STEPHANIE SAUER: I felt secure when you was at the hospital with me when I was having Christa because I didn’t know what was going on. (laughing) And I didn’t (laughing)—

BECKY SAUER: She didn’t want me to go into the delivery room. They had to talk her into letting me go in. She didn’t want me in there.

DENICE PRICE: What she just said was that she fell secure. (talking to Stephanie) I think you were glad she was there.

STEPHANIE SAUER: Yeah, ’cause all of those people, there was a whole lot of people in there.

DENICE PRICE: So you were pretty scared and It fell secure to have your mom there. (Stephanie nodding) Well, that’s a nice thing to let her know.

BECKY SAUER: She didn’t consent to let me go in until right when they were taking her to the delivery room.

DENICE PRICE: And now she’s giving you a compliment, and saying she was glad you were there.

BECKY SAUER: Well, I’m glad I was there too.

DENICE PRICE: Great, good.

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD:Well ness belongs in the families. A lot of families, many of them, Just like our children, lack self-esteem. They lack that feeling of power over their environment. They lack the ability to survive in an era of feminized poverty.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) What do you mean?


BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that?

JUDGE RICHARD FITZGERALD:Single family women overwhelmed by the lack of support that they are receiving from absent males, dependence or over dependence on abusive males. There’s been some tremendous changes In the structure of the American family and many of our isolated families without access to services, when they get linked with Family Preservation type services, they blossom. And they are not only capable of helping themselves and their children, they’re capable of helping each other. I’ve seen parent support groups come together, particularly around behaviorally disordered or learning disabled children, where they can share parenting skills on how you parent a child. (SUPPORT GROUP MEETING)

1ST MOTHER: (In group) And that’s it. His attitude is — ain’t worth a darn. He don’t do anything, you know. He’s not even goin’ to school. He hasn’t been goin’ to school for the last two or three days. He’s run the streets. And now he’s got a DB gun. And I told him I didn’t like It.

WOMAN: Did — give him that BB gun?

1ST MOTHER: No. I don’t know where he got It at.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) In Louisville, 85 percent of the referrals to Family Preservation are single moms. These are all graduates of a crisis intervention by the H.E.L.P. team. Denice and her colleague, Nancy Savage, sit in on their weekly session.

1ST MOTHER: And they broke in my house and stole my $20 that I’d been saving for about a month. I really got upset about that. And I think It hurt me more because I worked so hard for that little $20 that I’d been saving for the last month or so and I thought I could fall back on It and then him breaking down the door, then his friend stealing my money·, I just lost it. I didn’t leave no bruises or nothin’ like that. I just took him by the shirt and went (making noises and showing how she shook her son) and that’s what I did.

DENICE PRICE: Does everybody know about Mary?

2ND MOTHER: They got her in Jail.

3RD MOTHER: She’s here in Jefferson County?

2ND MOTHER: No. She’s in Grant Colonies Wisconsin, in the big people’s jail, because they don’t have a little people’s Jail.

3RD MOTHER: Where is that? Is that Wisconsin?

2ND MOTHER: Over by the Canadian border somewhere. OTHER WOMAN IN GROUP: What did they pick her up for?

2ND MOTHER: Accessory to grand theft auto.

3RD MOTHER: With that boy?

2ND MOTHER: Mm hmm.

WOMAN: Was she with Jimmy?

2ND MOTHER: She won’t sign papers to come home, because Jimmy’s up there and not down here.

WOMAN: Boy, he’s really cooked his goose, hasn’t he?

2ND MOTHER: Yeah. He can’t get out unless somebody pays $5,000 on a cash bond.

WOMAN: Is he over 18?

2ND MOTHER: Oh, yeah.

WOMAN: And how old is she?

2ND MOTHER: Thirteen. I still love Mary because she’s my daughter, but I don’t approve of what she’s doing. And I have to Just go on and go to work every day and come home and do what I can without her.

WOMAN: I guess that’s not easy.

2ND MOTHER: No, It’s not.

DENICE PRICE: A lot of it has to do with the missing parent. I mean, if we look around the table, there’s a lot of angry kids and if my dad can’t love me or doesn’t like me, because he doesn’t come around, so that means he doesn’t like me, then I must be pretty unlikable and pretty unlovable.

4TH MOTHER: What do you do?

1ST MOTHER: Help them get their self-respect or their self-esteem back. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. I don’t know how to do that for Brian. NANCY SAVAGE: Why do single moms or why do moms feel guilty about their kids’ behavior? Why do they feel like they’ve got to take all the responsibility for that?

5TH MOTHER: Because they came out of us, It’s real easy to produce this little thing.

1ST MOTHER: I think moms just blame. We just do.

3RD MOTHER: Society sees them as your rotten child and you’ve done a bad job.

4TH MOTHER: Especially if you’re a single parent. I mean, they’re not with the other parent, so who else are people going to blame? They look right at you.

BILL MOYERS: The issues of a missing father, angry kids, and a frustrated mom brought Denice Price into Kay Morgan’s life. Kay had been unable to cope with her oldest son, Joe, who had been in and out of counseling and group homes.

KAY MORGAN: This is what you used to do instead of being in school, right?


BILL MOYERS: Kay’s anger with him over his out of control behavior ricocheted to her other two kids. When Denice arrived to help, she found Kay overwhelmed and exhausted.

DENICE PRICE: I saw that Kay was working very, very hard at her job all day. She did some part-time Jobs, and then she would come home and would have three kids that she was running to cheerleading and to soccer and school meetings and I could really understand how she had very little emotional energy leftover to deal with three kids “‘ho had a lot of anger related to their dad.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) Let me ask the difficult question is: Where was their father?

KAY MORGAN: He left the family when I was eight months pregnant with Jonathan. Jennifer was two. Joe was five. He moved out of state. But we haven’t had contact with him in probably seven or eight years.

BILL MOYERS: Had you been on welfare for part of this time?

KAY MORGAN: Yes. Yes. I was forced to go on welfare when he left because I was eight months pregnant and I was also toxemic, which meant I was bedridden. I went on welfare. Then we found out that Jonathan had medical problems and I was basically put in a corner. In order to take care of the medical needs, I was dependent upon the medical system that the state provided. It took me 10 years to start getting child support. But about two years ago, I started getting child support, not every week, not stable. And I have to fight the system to stay on him to continue to pay. And I just take each and every one as a gift from God, because I don’t make an enormous amount. I love what I do in my Job. But it’s definitely not enough to keep us off of the street.

BILL MOYERS: What kind of job do you do?

KAY MORGAN: I’m administrative assistant in an academic office at the University.

BILL MOYERS: When I asked about your father, all three of you kids snickered. There you go again.

JENNIFER MORGAN: He’s just somebody who cannot accept responsibility as his own.

JOE MORGAN: I made a vow that I wouldn’t end up like him. If I ever have kids or a wife, I’m not going to leave.

JENNIFER MORGAN: I love my mom a lot but my father gets nothing from me but hatred. And I mean I don’t hate very many people. That’s not me. But the man who totally left my mom when she was eight months pregnant and two toddlers Just doesn’t deserve anything, nothing good anyway. (KAY AND HER KIDS PLAYING MINIATURE GOLF)

DENICE PRICE: Kay felt poorly about herself, and she felt that she was hopeless and that everything was hopeless and that she was out of control. The first thing that I do is to start rebuilding the self-esteem of the parent, supporting them, nurturing them, reframing some of what Kay saw as my kids are bad, therefore, I’m a bad mother. A lot of what they were doing was normal teenage childhood kinds of behaviors.

KAY MORGAN: I’ve now accepted it’s okay for me to be angry at my children when they do something wrong, and not to feel like I’m a bad person because I’m angry at my children.

JOE MORGAN: (fixing bicycle) Well, my mom took a beyond control warrant on me, ’cause I was a rotten kid, you know. I kind of feel bad about it now, ’cause I see how hard my mom’s worked. She put herself through college with three kids. That’s really impressive. My mom’s a great woman. I just wish I hadn’t given her such a hard way to go.

SINGLE MOM: (at luncheon) I was so hooked on drugs at sixteen. At the time she was 14, she wasn’t goin’ to school and, you know, my kids had lost all respect for me and everything, and I guess a neighbor or whoever, somebody called Protective Services.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) In Detroit, as in Louisville, four out of five referrals to Families First are single mothers.

DIANE GLOVER: (at luncheon) I am Diane Glover and I’m a client of Guy Thompson’s from Families First. And when I met Guy, I had a lot of secrets, things I was ashamed of, like cocaine addiction, alcoholism.

BILL MOYERS: Diane Glover and these single moms are graduates of the Families First program in Michigan. Their crisis occurred in part from drug or alcohol abuse.

SINGLE MOM: I had got down to 78 pounds and I had no hair. I wore a rag around my head all the time, you know.

BILL MOYERS: They have come to this lunch to help educate social service administrators about how the Families First intervention worked for them.

DIANE GLOVER: After I completed my course with Families First, I kind of went into tears ’cause I was saying’ well what do I do now, and it was like a newborn baby, I said, now I got to walk by myself, all right.

BILL MOYERS: If there is one thing Families First administrators have learned in Michigan, it’s how much the mothers fear losing their children. This fear can even prevent them from getting the live-in drug treatment Important to recovery.

SINGLE MOM: And right now I love drugs, but I love my kids and my family more than I do drugs, and I refuse to let Protective Services take my kids.

BILL MOYERS: Susan Kelly is Director of Families First for Michigan.

SUSAN KELLY: I mean, I thought when I first started working with Families First that crack was untreatable, was going to be the death of society, and the front page stories, as you well know, say, you know, “Mother throwing her child away is a crack user.” But as we got into working with families, what we realized is it’s very treatable, that if you come in with the appropriate services, and I would just point out that those aren’t always the ones that cost the most money. Actually we’ve found, for example, that outpatient is far more preferable for a family, a Families First client, in many cases than in-patient. If there’s anything that’s at the bottom of all this, It’s the premise of self-determination, that people really do know what they mean and they ought to be able to access It, and when helped to do so, they do. (SINGING IN BACKGROUND)

DIANE GLOVER: (in car) Every time I see another addict or if I ride up and down Harper and see those girls out there, It just depresses me. It takes me under, and all I can do is pray for them, because a lot of ’em, I look at ’em and I wonder do they have children, where are the children, and It makes me Just heavy all Over. And then I get prayerful, you know, even more so than I am. And they want you to reach out to ’em. That’s my strength at church. (people singing in church service)

BILL MOYERS: Diane Glover lives in East Detroit with three of her four children. It was in this community that she began her addiction and it’s here in this community that she is now seeking recovery.

DIANE GLOVER: I was 33 years old when I got messed all up, you know, when I got addicted. There’s pain that you go through when you’re addicted. And It’s like you, you’ve lost yourself, you know. Each day I’d sleep the day away and, you know, I’ll wake up like thinking It’s Thursday and I’ve slept all weekend and here It is, It’s Tuesday again, you know.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) How old were your children at that time?

DIANE GLOVER: Well, one was seventeen, one was eleven, and this one wasn’t born. She was born after the addiction.


DIANE GLOVER: Max was born, he was born right before I became addicted.

BILL MOYERS: You said you were in the hospital. What were you doing in the hospital?

DIANE GLOVER: I hated my life and I didn’t know what to do about it and so I had attempted suicide because I just got tired of waking up with a hangover. I got tired of waking up feeling that I couldn’t function without another drink or more drugs or a pill. You know, I couldn’t function without something. Always felt I needed something to even get out of the bed, and so I wound up in the hospital because, uh, I, uh, I tried to check out.

BILL MOYERS: How did you do that?

DIANE GLOVER: By overdosing.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) When Diane returned home from the hospital, a Child Protective Service worker told her that if she wanted to keep her children, she would need help from a Family Preservation worker.

DIANE GLOVER: Jill Davis from Protective Services, she could see that I had a lot of stress, a lot of weight on me, and so she talked to me and she said, well, what do you think about counseling. Then she told me about Families First. She said, well, someone’s going to come and help you to help yourself if you want it. If not, we’ll take the children. And It was Important to me that I keep my children. That kind of was an eye opener. That was like —

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) Do you remember what went through your mind?



DIANE GLOVER: I said, wow, I’m at this point, you know. I’ve given up on life and, uh, now it’s just so visible that they’re going to take my children, you know, and said, wow, I started thinking about even though I was drinking and drugging, I could wake up and I could see ’em and I started thinking about a day without seein’ them, ever seein’ them again. And I started thinking about what would happen if they got with somebody that didn’t love ’em like I loved ’em.

BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) It was Guy Thompson who came to work with Diane and her kids. He still drops by periodically to check up on them. Guy remembers that first day almost two years ago.

GUY THOMPSON: I remember that the house was clean that first time that I came. I remember awards that Jeffawn had gotten in school. I remember dinner cooking in the kitchen remember one of the first things you said to me was that I want help, something has to change because I’m very scared and I don’t want to lose my children. All of those things to me were strengths. And It was real hard to learn to trust me, wasn’t It?

DIANE GLOVER: Yes, because you were a man.

GUY THOMPSON: Okay. Okay. And there were a lot of things and some of the things came out as, as we went along (Diane nodding).

BILL MOYERS: When Guy first arrived. he spent several hours Just listening to Diane’s story. Her immediate concern was the tensions between her and her 14-year-old daughter, Jeffawn.

DIANE GLOVER: She was tense. I put tremendous stress on her because I realized that she was larger than I am, a big, strong, healthy teenager, and I saw that she had no more respect for me and I was always wondering when would the time come when she’ll strike back at me. And she even would say things like. you’re with him and he’s no good and he’s beatin’ on you and nobody’s going to beat on me, when I become a woman, no man never is going to hit me, which I’m glad that that came out of it, but she let me know that she wasn’t going to take anything even from me because who are you, you’re not my mother anymore, I don’t know who you are, you know, little drunk lady. You know, that was her attitude. And so she. umm, would run. I’d chase her with brooms and carryon like that and I would, umm, she never knew, but I’d break down and cry when she was gone, because I’d say, wow, I’m losing It, I’ve lost It.

BILL MOYERS: (Interviewing) You mentioned an abusive relationship with a boyfriend. What form did that take? Did he beat you?



DIANE GLOVER: Yeah, very ‘badly, broken nose, broken shoulder. And he was a drug addict and he started me off on drugs. He’d come and stay and I would never speak back to him out of fear and, umm

BILL MOYERS: What did you fear?

DIANE GLOVER: Being beaten.

BILL MOYERS: What was the worst?

DIANE GLOVER: And ’cause the police had turned their backs on me. The biggest fear was — I really felt that one day he was going to kill me.

BILL MOYERS: He hit you that hard?


BILL MOYERS: With fists?

DIANE GLOVER: Well, I had a fractured collarbone and broken nose, a broken arm, and he threw me off of a concrete porch onto some concrete, and that was right after delivering a baby. I had a C-section, and I really wasn’t supposed to be on my feet and we got into an argument and It was — he saw me getting stronger through the program, and he felt threatened. He felt that I would no longer need him, because I withdrew from using drugs and from drinking with him. And when he struck at me, It hit my son and the baby was just screaming and I know he had her in his arms, I’m not sure whether he threw her down or what, but I heard a thump while I was in the room and It just took me into a real frenzy and when they came, they wouldn’t remove the children because he’s the father. (DIANE GLOVER AND OTHERS SINGING DURING CHURCH SERVICE)

GUY THOMPSON: I remember It being a Thursday morning around 1:30 AM, I received a call from he-:. When I got there, things were quiet. She was gone. I did knock on the door and her boyfriend came to the door and immediately said to me, I can’t take it anymore, I’m leaving, I’m leaving. I can take the baby with me, or you know, what do you want to do? I’ve already called my relatives in California and I’m leaving. So I, I said, well, now it seems like you have a plan. What can I do to help you in terms of getting a plane ticket, do you need a ride to the airport, what is It that you need, what can I help you with, and then I proceeded to the hospital where the EMS had taken Miss Glover, and then we set up a safety plan.

BILL MOYERS: You really became a crisis manager.

GUY THOMPSON: Well, we look at crisis as an opportunity for change-and at that point, Miss Glover had really allowed me into a very personal, very scary part of her life that before that she hadn’t really been able to verbalize to me. An event like that allowed me to act on what really was — she — what she saw as her main problem.

BILL MOYERS: You had not told Mr. Thompson that he was abusing you, that that boyfriend was abusing you?

DIANE GLOVER: No. I was ashamed of that, very ashamed of It, and It was part of my problem with my children. They no longer obeyed anything I asked them to do because this guy was — I was this guy’s doormat. You know, I lost self-respect and their respect and when I saw that Mr. Thompson was serious about my recovery and about me and my children staying together as a family, I saw that as a great — I said, this is my break, and I saw him as a guardian angel.

BILL MOYERS: Guardian angel?

DIANE GLOVER: And I said, boy, uh huh, he’s an angel.

DIANE GLOVER: (talking to her child at dinner table) You don’t get a whole one. You have to share, share.

BILL MOYERS: Guy seized on the opportunity to coax from Diane some of the parenting skills she had lost during addiction.

GUY THOMPSON: And It seems like the chore chart helped out a lot.

DIANE GLOVER: And I even learned to wash dishes again, which is something that I had put on her, that responsibility, because I was too busy doing my thing, as they say, you know, which wasn’t about anything. It wasn’t — It was putting all the household chores on her and I learned to do them now in unity with her and It’s your turn, my turn, because I am a member of the family, you are a member of the family. One member of the family shouldn’t be the one carrying the whole load.

DIANE GLOVER: (at dinner table) Let’s have a toast. Careful. (her son picking up glass of milk)

MAX GLOVER: (Diane’s son): Come on Trudy.

DIANE GLOVER: (toasting with glasses of milk) To peace.


BILL MOYERS: (voice-over) To encourage Diane to enter drug and alcohol treatment, Guy even attended the first Narcotics Anonymous meeting with her. Knowing she needed continuing support from others, Guy recommended that Diane seek out a church-based community group called Camden House. Families find strength here to deal with substance abuse.

GUY THOMPSON: Another thing that it seems is that the women who you’re working with at Camden House have become a whole new group of friends. It seems that getting away from some of the people that you were maybe seeing on a regular basis when you were using is part of your recovery, is part of your staying away from using. It also seems like the church over and above the involvement with church going on Sunday, having the prayer meetings, be a part of the mothers group, that it’s helped you in other ways too. Didn’t you tell me that you might be starting a program, a career program, a computer class?


GUY THOMPSON: To go back to work, to learn resume writing and interviewing skills.


GUY THOMPSON: Okay. And those are things you sought out on your own.


GUY THOMPSON: Those are strengths.


GUY THOMPSON: Those are strengths.

DIANE GLOVER: If I don’t go to an AA meeting, I’ll go to church or I’ll make sure I’m sitting right up under my grandmother and I’ll let her know those feelings. You know, I won’t just sit with her like, you know, I let her know the feelings like as if I was at a meeting. And she understands. She has knowledge of addiction now.

GUY THOMPSON: Yes, I’m sure.

DIANE GLOVER: See, It’s a whole different life — it’s a world inside of this world that people live in.

SUSAN KELLY: (speaking to group) As I mentioned, we’ve served over 7,000 children and their families, representing close to 3,000 families. About 80 percent of them have been able to stay together.

BILL MOYERS: Since they launched Michigan’s family preservation efforts in 1988, Susan Kelly and her coworkers have learned that drug abusing parents can be given a second chance.

DAVID McNALLY, Program Manager, Emmis Center for Children, Wayne County, Michigan: We don’t make the same kinds of assumptions about John Brown, who happens to be an alcoholic, going to work every day, bringing home a paycheck, and he has a nice little family. We don’t take those children out of their homes. So first of all, it has to do with the belief system that you either believe that people are worth change, or you don’t believe that they’re worth change. First and foremost, our concern is the safety of children, so that when we go into a substance abuse in a family our primary concern is are the children safe, what was the referral problem from the Department of Social Services, and what needs to be done to ensure the safety of children? And, again, I go back to John Brown, who’s the alcoholic. We don’t take his children out and we don’t develop systems to ensure their safety, although in some cases we might need to.

MICHAEL WILLIAMS, Program Manager, Detroit: Well, I think again we get back into the labeling process. I’ve seen situations where I’ve worked with two parents who are working and that child has had no care, those parents are working second shift. Both parents are working second shift. A kid goes to school, comes home, and actually sees — doesn’t see a parent. And that is a form of neglect based off the label. So if we ask one parent to quit working for the sake of that child, we tend not to get answers, because their income is based off of that. And to put the crack children in a different category, It’s unfair, and I think, yes, in situations where kids are in need and need to be protected, we should make those tough decisions, but It should be the last resort, not based off the fact that you are a crack mother.

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) Last resort. Why the last resort?

MICHAEL WILLIAMS: Because we’re talking about families. And we’re talking about the importance of families. And if we’re a country that believes in integrity of families, then we should work towards that.

BILL MOYERS: (interviewing) Have you learned some things from Mrs. Glover?


BILL MOYERS: What has she taught you?

GUY THOMPSON: That more so than learning, I think she confirmed for me my belief that despite issues that threaten families, that families can work on strengthening skills to go on and return to the family life that they always wanted and maybe once had in the past:

BILL MOYERS: Always wanted. You think they wanted to be a family here?


DIANE GLOVER: Even my extended family, my aunt and my grandmother — I broke down and let him know my need for their love, and their forgiveness. And I didn’t know how to talk to them and they wouldn’t take me seriously. And Mr. Thompson went to them individually and expressed to them what I was going through and what I felt. They listened to him. And then we all finally were able to sit together and exchange apologies, umm, a lot of crying went on, and hugs. And it was just a great triumph for me to get their love back and for Mr. Thompson to be my advocate, you know. He was very instrumental in that.

BILL MOYERS: You got your family back?

DIANE GLOVER: I got my whole family back and even the drug dealers and the people at the bars, they don’t see me anymore because that’s not my lifestyle anymore. But when people do see me, bump into me, I have my head up now, and I’m — I look like somebody’s mom now.

BILL MOYERS: (on camera) Here are some concluding thoughts about Families First after a year of reporting the story. First, it’s no substitute for foster care or placement when a child can only be safe outside the home. Second, it’s not a panacea. It can’t bring back an absent father. It’s no cure for poverty. Third, in practice and philosophy, It is different from traditional social work with families. It’s short and intensive, it happens in the home between parents and children, and asks them to suggest solutions. The helpers are available around-the-dock because, as we know, family crises don’t just happen between 9 and 5. Fourth, it’s cost effective. In Michigan, family preservation costs about $4500 a family, while It costs three times that much to keep one child in foster care for a year. Finally, what It does best is to turn crisis into opportunity. We now know that once the early bonding is broken between parent and child, a kind of unraveling begins that can lead to lasting emotional scars, to learning disabilities, to failure at school, even to crime and violence, and life on the streets. Once this happens, the unraveling is hard and costly to reverse. What families in crisis need is time to calm things down, catch their breath and learn some skills that might prevent the bond being ruptured. This strategy doesn’t always work, but it has worked often enough to persuade us that families can, indeed, change when we put Families First. I’m Bill Moyers.

CONNIE WEST: Jamie is a neat person to work with. I told her I was intimidated by women in skirts or people that dressed up. It’s like, look, you got to wear blue jeans to come work with me. She was comfortable with that. She’d come in in her shorts and that made me feel a lot better. And number one, be honest with me.

BECKY SAUER: I told Denice that, the other day, I really was not looking forward to you all coming out here. I mean, I thought, here is going to be these strangers, God, they’re going to move in, you know, and we’re going to be sittin’ around here and they’re going to know every little thing that we do and everything that we say. And, uh, but it’s not like that. It’s really not. They come in and it’s like we’ve known each other forever and after they leave, it’s — me and Stephanie get along very well the rest of the day.

DIANE GLOVER: I was his main interest, you know, and he saw, he looked beyond me, you know, the way I was physically and the way I was, you know, in his eyesight, and he saw my heart. And he saw that I wanted to be a better person that I wanted to get back to basics, and he helped me.

SHAMIKA BROOKS: I don’t look at him as a father but I look to him as someone that helped my mother to keep us.

This transcript was entered on April 27, 2015.

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