The facility, which opened last month at ReGen’s Curran Place centre in Ivanhoe, was launched by Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley on Monday.
The mother and baby unit enables parents to undertake treatment without being separated from their children. It offers a tailored alcohol and other drug withdrawal program that includes sessions to enhance parenting skills and strengthen mother-child attachment.
While the unit is physically separated from the existing adult withdrawal service at Curran Place, it still incorporates established programs run at the centre. These include yoga, recreational activities, goal setting and nutrition.
Mr Foley said the state government recognised the need for a targeted service to increase the accessibility of alcohol and other drug treatment services for mothers with babies and young children.
“We know the challenges of being a new parent are significant, on top of trying to withdraw from alcohol or drugs. So this unit fills a much needed gap in treatment services,” he said.
In 2011, UnitingCare ReGen began conversations with the Department of Health and Human Services about developing a specialist mother and baby service.
UnitingCare ReGen CEO Laurence Alvis hopes the new service can remove barriers for mothers seeking to reduce their substance use.
“It’s been five years of hard work to get to this point, but we are now in the position to be able to work more closely together with other health and community services to support vulnerable families, protect children at risk and support sustainable changes to mothers’ alcohol and other drug use,” Mr Alvis said.
Anne understands the stigma experienced by mothers who undertake alcohol and other drug treatment. When she went to her first rehab session, 80 per cent of attendees were male.
“I felt unsafe and it was near impossible to focus on my treatment. I overheard a guy saying ‘how could a mother do that to her kids’. He was talking about me. I felt judged as a woman and a failure as a mother. Needless to say this rehab didn’t work out for me,” she said.
While the responsibilities of parenthood can be a motivator to cease or reduce substance use, it can also be a cause of additional stress.
“When my husband first made contact with ReGen, I had pretty much hit rock bottom. I found it too difficult to reach out to anyone, especially now that the majority of my new social circle were parents from school and day care,” Anne said.
“I was ashamed because I had children who needed me and I was not available for them and I believed that people would think that I didn’t love my kids. I was also scared that the authorities would take them away.”
The purpose-built facility at Curran Place is designed to provide a safe, welcoming environment to support the wellbeing of mothers and their children.
Mother and Baby service manager Rose McCrohan said the new facility is already having an impact and she has seen remarkable transformations from some of her clients.
“The mothers love this building. It’s beautiful and it makes them feel safe. It’s a wonderful place to undertake the first stage of their treatment,” she said.