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'Every time, it's a miracle'family houseReunited: Bridget and Ethan are together again at Family House, a program for mothers and children

Bridget is bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet in her living room at Family House, and she keeps glancing at the clock. Today is the day she gets her son back.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,’’ she said. “I’m so excited, and so nervous … and I’m worried. I’m so worried about how he’s going to act, how he’ll look at me. I don’t know how he’ll react to me.”

Someone tells Bridget that the office of community services, the state’s child welfare arm, has arrived with Bridget’s son, Ethan. They check in at the main office, and Bridget is supposed to wait in her apartment while they bring two-year-old Ethan to her. She finally can’t wait anymore, and she bursts into the courtyard, and calls to him.


Bridget shouldn’t have worried. Ethan appears, and runs to hug his mom. She scoops him up in her arms, plants kisses on his neck. And it’s like they’ve never been apart.

The OCS workers wept.

This is a common scene at Family House, a residential treatment facility for chemically dependent women and their children – one of only a handful of programs in the country that work with mothers and children together. Mothers lose their children due to their addiction, and Family House helps get them back.

“Every time, it’s a miracle,’’ says Kathy Muller, who helps run the group Therapy at Family House. “When there’s no hope, we manufacture some.”

Bridget’s case certainly appeared to have little hope. She was the first woman admitted to Family House while pregnant. She graduated from the program, but relapsed after doctors gave her prescription drugs during her delivery. Soon her body was failing, her liver shutting down, and her son growing up in a nightmare. In desperation, she called OCS and asked them to take her son away.

“Within two weeks, I was completely out of control,” Bridget says. “I called OCS myself. I had to give my son up. I knew I wasn’t going to live if I continued. I started bringing my son with me to use, dragging him out at three in the morning to get drugs. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to him.”

In order to get Ethan back, Bridget had to enter a treatment program. She asked to return to Family House.

“When I walked in here, everybody knows me, and I felt like such a failure,’’ Bridget says. “I didn’t want to come back – but I had to. They were so glad to see me. I didn’t know they’d take me back. I was just hoping.”

“When she came back, she was so very sick,’’ Family House director Michele Vick says. “She just grabbed ahold of me. She was so thin, and dressed in rags. I thought she was dying. I did not expect her to live, being on the streets the way she was.”

OCS policy dictates that mothers like Bridget cannot get their children back until they’ve met certain requirements, and advanced to well-defined points in their rehabilitation. Bridget’s health slowly returned, and Family House and OCS decided she was able to have her son back.

“I’ve been miserable, being without him,’’ Bridget says. “I almost walked out a bunch of times. Thank God I didn’t. I’m dealing with drug issues that I’ve been putting off for 15 years. I feel like a human being again.

“I didn’t want to use anymore. I don’t want to live like I was living. Nobody should have to. I reached my bottom. This place saved my life. They’re wonderful. There’s not one time when I’ve gone to the office and said I needed to talk when they didn’t drop whatever they were doing, for me.

“Without Family House? I’d be dead.”

Bridget has been so focused on Ethan that she’s practically whirled through the day. But she takes a moment to find Vick, and throws herself into a tearful hug. Bridget chokes out the words “Thank you so much” again and again. No one knows how this story will end. But they have this moment, and this time – and today, that’s enough.

“Six months of health. Six months of structure,’’ Vick says. “I can’t guarantee that every story will be a success. But I can guarantee that for six months we can give you a nurturing and safe environment in which to grow. And when you have that, you have a chance to be something.

“What else could you want to do with your life?”