The J.E. and L.E. Mabee Center in Fort Worth, Texas, and the word “stability” go hand in hand. As the main hub for all homeless services in Tarrant County, the Mabee Center is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It serves homeless individuals and families through meals, emergency shelter, family residential care, veterans services and transitional living programs. Its ultimate goal is to transition individuals and families from homelessness to a sustainable, self-supported lifestyle where they can contribute to society.
One of the center’s programs, First Choice, is the only one of its kind throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A voluntary, long-term residential treatment program, First Choice is designed for chemically dependent mothers and their children. They stay up to one year and receive private rooms and bath; substance abuse and family counseling; 12-step programs; group therapy; off-site daycare and a host of services designed to arm them with tools for self-sustainability, such as parenting, budgeting and life skills classes.
“Women who seek out or are placed in traditional substance abuse treatment centers must leave their children behind, usually in foster care or another temporary environment. Out of concern for their children’s short-term welfare, participants often drop out of the program early, negatively impacting their children’s long-term welfare,” said Beckie Wach, operations director at the center. “A place like First Choice where families can stay together while Mom undergoes treatment is essential.”
Wach said the center recently went through a program evaluation offered by Karen Lawson, territorial program evaluation coordinator, as part of the Territorial Social Services Department and found it very helpful. The program evaluation is a guided self-study program review through training, consultation and teamwork. Through the process, the benchmark for program performance is determined with the use of the National Social Services Standards Manual.
Wach said some of the most positive outcomes they discovered about the First Choice program – through the evaluation – were its holistic approach to case management, coordination with community partners and the follow-up component.
Several of the measurable objectives of the First Choice program actually tell the story of its success because of the follow-up component. After they’ve been out of the program for 90 days, clients are evaluated to see if they are either employed full-time, or receiving benefits if they are unable to work; if they remain substance-free; and if they were previously involved in the criminal justice systems, they should have had no new arrests related to criminal activity. At least 75 percent of clients who complete the program meet these requirements upon their 90-day review.
Wach said the program evaluation not only shined a spotlight on what the First Choice program does well – helping women and their children remain together during substance abuse treatment and build stable lives long-term – but it also shed light on ways the program can be improved.
“The evaluation team was so instrumental with their feedback and validating the need to move this program off-site to a safer location. Also, adding an on-site doctorate level counselor for psychological and mental health needs,” said Wach.
For women undergoing substance abuse treatment, the First Choice program is an answer to prayer because it ensures their children are safe, too. One little boy whose mom was in the program last year was given a piece of paper and asked to draw in four squares whatever reminded him of The Salvation Army. He drew in one square his family running for safety (60 percent of the families are escaping domestic violence); another depicted food and love; the third and fourth squares showed a picture of Salvation Army camp and an ice skating outing. Wach said that the First Choice program is a refuge for the kids.
Jodi Pfuehler, a graduate of the program, thanked a donor with a letter. “I am a single mother recovering from the disease of addiction. Thanks to your donation, I had the opportunity to start a new life free of drugs in a safe, therapeutic atmosphere. . . I cannot say enough good things about The Salvation Army. I honestly don’t know where or what my life would be today without them.”
If your social services program is interested in participating in a program review, contact Karen Lawson at 404-728-1300, ext. 10614.