Minnesota Prison Doula Project
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mothers jailed in rural communities were provided pregnancy and parenting support.
Mental Health Support for New Americans
Helping Communities Address Critical Shortages According to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease in children even though it is largely preventable. One of the challenges families face is access to dental care for their children. This is compounded by a critical shortage of dentists in Minnesota and across the United States, with fewer each year accepting new patients on Medical Assistance. Preserving Children’s Smiles Seven hundred children and their families received essential dental education, routine and emergency dental care through a grant to Isanti County Public Health Department , working in partnership with Children’s Dental Services (CDS). CDS clinics serve children and youth, as well as pregnant women. The county demonstrated a large unmet need for dental services. The successful outcomes led to additional county funding for the program to continue and expand to serve more children. Helping Through Hard Times Receiving routine dental care was never an issue for Rosie* and her three children until her job status changed. Her usual dental clinic didn’t accept Medical Assistance reimbursement so she was forced to seek services elsewhere. Of the 11 dental providers in Isanti County, none would accept new patients with Medical Assistance because reimbursement rates are considerably lower than typical dental fees. Through a dental day clinic in the Isanti County Public Health Department, all three children received exams and cleanings from Children’s Dental Services and the 9-year-old had a filling and sealants applied. Rosie was grateful for a dental home to get them through a difficult time.
Unaddressed trauma can resurface long after people have escaped danger and its lasting effects on beliefs and behavior can impact generations of families and whole communities. At Holy Rosary Church in Minneapolis, administrators discovered that many Latinos feel comfortable approaching their church when in distress. Many first-generation Latino immigrant community members with no insurance for mental health care found themselves struggling with anxiety and depression, which affected their ability to function at home, work and school. The grant they received supported the Recuperando Tu Vida Despues de Trauma (Getting Your Life Back After Trauma) program to help people learn skills to help them heal and avoid passing the effects of their trauma on to the next generation. As the program inspired community trust, people accessing services grew by 100 percent. Providing mental health support in Spanish greatly increased their ability to access and follow through with treatment. This program also revealed a great unmet need, with 50 percent more appointments held than projected — a total of 1,500 therapy sessions. The program has secured additional funds to continue the healing work that began with this project. Helping Marta Heal Marta* participated in the program and felt anxious as long as she could remember. From early childhood, she struggled to protect herself to avoid the sexual abuse of male relatives. To escape that harsh reality, she married early, but to a man who severely abused her for more than 20 years. Eventually, the legal system intervened, removing him from Marta’s life. But learning how to live beyond the wounds and scars of decades of abuse proved to be much more complex. Through therapy, Marta was able to reflect on her body, heart and soul’s response to constant stress and to recognize how the abuse had made her feel worthless and ashamed. She learned to recognize and respond to her own fears and anxiety in healthy ways that made a positive difference in her self-esteem and workplace relationships. She also developed healthier connections with her adult children. This program helped a valiant survivor discover a healthier future, one beyond pain and shame.
of participants increased core parenting knowledge.
had reduced levels of depression.
Correcting the Odds Information gathered from ongoing studies related to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) provides important insight into problems that continue to stress our communities. The original ACEs study and subsequent research looked at three categories of adverse experiences: abuse, household challenges and neglect. The University of Minnesota addressed these difficult social issues through the Minnesota Prison Doula Project , which has been so successful that it is now a standalone nonprofit organization. Healing Generations Despite Separation Some of the most powerful illustrations of the effects of family separation can be seen among mothers who are serving prison terms. More than three-quarters of incarcerated women are of childbearing age and most have minor children. Up to 10 percent of female inmates are pregnant when they’re admitted to prison. The Minnesota Prison Doula Project provided pregnancy and parenting support for more than 500 mothers jailed in rural communities. Doulas are advocates for pregnant women, offering comfort, advocacy and support during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. During the grant period, doulas attended 11 births, all full-term deliveries. Women in the program received parenting education and support, as well as increased access to reproductive health information.
During one group session with women in the Olmsted County jail, the mothers discussed the mental health manifestations of grief in their lives. This topic arose as the women shared their experiences of significant trauma and loss in their search for a better understanding of their own reactions to those experiences. One by one, they explored how the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — had been acted out in their relationships with their children. They also discussed the role addiction had played in their attempt to manage their intense and misunderstood emotions. As the conversation deepened, one woman experienced a breakthrough she wanted to share and requested the group take a moment to reflect on what was happening in the room that day. “I’d like a time out please, because I need everyone in this room today to know that this is what healing feels like for me. Thank you,” she said. For new mothers in the program, the joy of bringing their child into the world is short-lived. Most incarcerated moms spend between 48 and 72 hours with their newborns before they are separated. Newborns are typically placed with other family members or into foster care. Nonetheless, this program provides hope for women striving to improve the likelihood of reuniting with their children after their release.
*Name changed for privacy.
*Name changed for privacy.
“Prison birth work is watching intergenerational trauma in real time — our goal as an organization is to end this cycle.” ERICA GERRITY | Executive Director, Minnesota Prison Doula Project
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