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AIA Change Agents: Mission Inn

Rachel FoxThis post is part of an on-going series called AIA Change Agents where we get to know each of the direct service programs funded by the Children’s Bureau under the AIA Act. In this segment, we sat down to chat with Rachel Fox, Project Manager of Mission Inn in Grand Rapids, MI.

 1. Tell us a little bit about Mission Inn.

The Mission Inn project is a comprehensive, community-based wraparound model that integrates the principles of infant mental health (IMH) and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.  The Mission Inn program provides support services to pregnant and parenting women presenting with mental health and substance use concerns. Services are delivered by a multidisciplinary team (i.e., infant mental health therapist, peer recovery coach, and case manager) working together to address concerns related to basic needs, recovery support, mental health and parenting issues to provide the best possible outcome for women and their children.  The project is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan and serves Kent County.

The primary goal of the Mission Inn project is to promote safe, secure, permanent and nurturing homes for infants and young children at risk of abandonment, or who have been abandoned, due to the effects of parental substance abuse.  Mission Inn provides flexible, creative outreach to engage and retain high risk clients in treatment.

Key objectives of the project are to improve permanency, reduce substance use and relapse, improve parent/child relationships, and promote appropriate child development.  Mission Inn has adopted a rigorous research study.  The Mission Inn program provides enhanced services and also offers a control group (utilizing traditional infant mental health services).  The research and evaluation effort compares these two services.

2. What have been the major challenges and successes Mission Inn has experienced implementing a randomized control experimental design.

We have been tasked with helping the community to understand a research model approach for a program that historically had open access.  It can be challenging to do outreach and promote the program because those referred may or may not be placed into the enhanced group.  We have improved how we frame this to referral partners and clients to help ease the anxiety when hearing about being placed into a study.  As a program, we saw success when we revisited our screening process, utilizing experts in substance use disorder assessment to better approach the topic, not alienate clients, and better identify potential families for the study at intake.  The number of participants began to steadily improve after we looked at our screening process and how we question potential clients about their substance use.

3. Tell us about your typical clientele.

The clients participating with the Mission Inn program are women residing in the county who are considered low income and present with mental health concerns coupled with a history of or ongoing substance use. Clients may be pregnant or parenting a child, 0-4 years of age.  The families often seen in Mission Inn have had numerous encounters with other service providers, such as our local methadone treatment clinic, outpatient counseling, substance use treatment facilities, and many have had experience with the criminal justice or child welfare system.  Our clients are often very stressed and isolated with limited or poor support systems in place.

4. What would you say is the most challenging aspect of the work you do? What about the most rewarding?

The profound impact of substance abuse on the lives of caregivers and young children can be overwhelming, especially given the tight resources and limited options for families in our community.  The team approach appears effective because, quite often, clients’ basic needs (e.g., housing, food, transportation, baby supplies), social support systems, and mental health have all been touched by substance abuse issues.  A team approach to providing services helps each Mission Inn staff member to really focus on their scope of practice more fully. For example, the therapist can focus on infant mental health treatment, rather than finding secure housing and food for clients. I think the staff also benefits from knowing they have a supportive teammate when treating very high risk, complex family systems.

5. If Mission Inn were to have a mascot, what would it be? 

What an interesting question!  Rather than an animal mascot, perhaps Mission Inn would be a Willow Tree (appropriate, given its location at Arbor Circle).  A Willow Tree is strong and flexible, enduring harsh or changing winds and remaining in place.

6. This question was intentionally left blank. What question were you hoping we’d ask? What would you like to tell us that wasn’t covered?

You may be interested in learning about a trend we are seeing in our Mission Inn clients.  In our community, as in many others, we are seeing pervasive use and abuse of prescription medications.  Our clients with medical concerns prescribed these kinds of meds can present as very complex when working towards recovery from addiction.

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