Keeping Families Together and Creating Bright Futures for Women and Children

Mothers seeking treatment for substance use disorder often must choose between taking care of their children and taking care of themselves. Renewal House is offering mothers in Middle Tennessee a different option – one where they don’t have to choose.

In Tennessee, at least three people die from an opioid-related overdose every day.1 And deaths due to heroin and fentanyl continue to rise in the state.2 This has led to an increase of statewide initiatives that address this pressing issue by supporting treatment programs for substance use disorder (SUD). Expanded support for these programs is a positive step – but for women seeking treatment and recovery, there are often additional challenges to navigate.

Barriers to Treatment and Recovery for Mothers

In 2017, the federal Office on Women’s Health reported that 70% of women seeking treatment for SUD have children, compared with 50% of men seeking treatment.3 Women also are more likely to bear primary responsibility for childcare, but traditional inpatient programs seldom allow children to be present during treatment.3

“A mother needs her children, and children need their mothers.”
— Tiffany*, Renewal House graduate

The 2011 National Drug Control Strategy acknowledged the importance of not making women choose between seeking treatment and caring for their children.3 However, only 12% of residential programs accommodate clients’ children, according to a 2019 government survey.4

In addition, women are often afraid to acknowledge their substance use — an essential first step in getting needed medical treatment — due to fear of losing custody.3 Mothers relying on public health insurance in Tennessee must have physical custody of their child(ren) to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program. If they lose custody of their child(ren), they must complete treatment before regaining custody.

This cyclical issue can make it difficult for women to get the care they need: without custody of a child, a mother cannot get coverage or treatment, yet treatment is required before a mother can regain custody.

Family-Centered Treatment at Renewal House

One organization addressing the specific challenges mothers face is Renewal House, based in Nashville, Tennessee. Renewal House, a Purdue Pharma grant recipient, offers the state’s only long-term, comprehensive residential recovery program where mothers can maintain custody of their child(ren) while in treatment.

And that matters.

“It is so important to preserve the family unit,” said Pamela Sessions, CEO, Renewal House. “Once that time is gone you can’t get it back, and our moms talk about that frequently.”

On average, Renewal House provides 60 women with intensive addiction treatment each year. Since 1996, Renewal House has served more than 6,000 women and children. These families would have otherwise been separated for, at the very least, the amount of time it would take for the mother to complete her SUD treatment program. The average stay in the residential program is six months, but Renewal House imposes no limit. Clients are given the time needed to rebuild their lives.

“My daughter watches me work. She says she wants to be like me. Before Renewal House and the Career Renewal Program, I didn’t even want to be me.”
— Lisa,* Renewal House graduate

At first glance, Renewal House’s Residential Program looks similar to the model of a traditional inpatient program. It includes recovery housing, women’s services, mental health support and peer support to aid in recovery. However, Renewal House keeps a mother and her children together throughout the recovery process. Every woman in the Residential Program is also enrolled in Renewal House’s Career Renewal, a program designed to support women’s professional paths.

Preparing for and Succeeding in the Workplace

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, gainful employment is one of the three best predictors of successful recovery from SUD.5 At Renewal House, women can focus first on recovery, building confidence and developing the skills required to maintain sobriety. Then, they can layer in job skills through Career Renewal, which focuses on preparing for, securing and maintaining meaningful employment — all while learning to balance parenting and managing life without the use of substances.

“Women come to Renewal House literally held down by their addiction but leave free and flourishing. Our clients leave not only as better moms, but as graphic designers, real estate agents, team leaders, hospitality workers, social workers, admissions clerks and contributing citizens to our community.”
— Pamela Sessions, CEO, Renewal House

Since its inception in April 2019, Career Renewal has supported 88 women by providing a mix of vocational skills and financial education. Women participating in the program complete a career assessment and receive training in areas such as resumé writing, communication styles, job searching and interview skills, setting healthy boundaries in the workplace and SMART goal setting.6

The Career Renewal program helps women in recovery prepare for the workforce – whether entering for the first time or re-entering through the program’s support. And, each job secured through Career Renewal represents the chance of a better outcome – and a better future – for both mother and child.6

By addressing the various challenges that mothers in recovery face, including maintaining custody of their child(ren) and developing job-readiness skills, Renewal House provides treatment and recovery support to help women as they take care of their children and themselves.

*Client names have been changed to protect privacy

Renewal House is a Purdue Pharma grant recipient.

1 Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Opioid use in Tennessee. May 2019. Accessed October 12, 2020.
2 Tennessee Department of Health. Tennessee’s annual overdose report, 2020. Accessed November 1, 2020.
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Final report: opioid use, misuse, and overdose in women. July 19, 2017. Accessed October 7, 2020.
4 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. National survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS): 2019. Accessed January 14, 2021.
5 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Integrating substance abuse treatment and vocational services (TIP 38). 2000.
6 Renewal House.