By Lynsey Clark
At the Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP)’s Peer Parent Support Group, families dealing with issues related to child welfare, or Child Protective Services (CPS) have a chance to vent and receive support.
Parents work with trained facilitators to talk about what’s going on in their lives, express themselves in a non-judgmental environment and create better situations for themselves and their children.
HPP serves families throughout the Bay Area, and provides services that range from treatment and counseling to prenatal yoga classes. The program was founded to provide services to pregnant or parenting mothers but has since expanded to offer numerous services to low-income families who need assistance.
Many of the Peer Parent Support Group facilitators have first-hand experience with the CPS system. “Even though my case was not open for long,” peer mentor Nancy Rodriguez said, “ I understand first hand how frustrating the system can be.”
The topics addressed by the parents vary from week to week. But a sense of frustration is a common subject.
At a meeting in July, Martha, (whose last name has been omitted to protect her privacy) spoke about her experience of discrimination by CPS due to her mental illness. Having been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Martha complained of a lack of support for her needs in addition to the ceaseless doubt of her parenting capacities due to her mental illness.
“They don’t believe you can change,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes. It shouldn’t follow you for your whole life.”
The one male member of the group discussed his experience with sexism within the CPS system. He explained that CPS trusted another woman to take care of his daughter when the mother of the child was unable to more than him.
“When a woman is delegated as a caretaker for the child its okay,” said Barry White. “But when I’m delegated it’s not. I’ve never hurt my child but they still took her away.”
Though the parents were vocal about the limitations of CPS, the members of the group were unanimous in their praise of Homeless Prenatal.
“This place has a lot of resources,” another anonymous group member explained. “I actually filled out a housing application with my caseworker, and that helped me to get my kids back. Programs like this is a real help.”
“My case manager is the only person who has been on my side,” Martha said. “Without this program I would have been lost in the system.”
They suggest that parents in other counties might benefit from an advocate agency like HPP to help navigate the system.