Visit by Lon Woodbury, Oct. 22, 2009
Though the outside of the building was rather nondescript, when we went inside, we found it colorful, bright and very cheery. There were pictures of nursery verses with drawings on many of the walls, artwork elsewhere (some by the girls), with flowers and colored rugs placed appropriately to create a cheery home-like atmosphere. The whole impact was one of a friendly, clean and uplifting space. It was obviously created for babies and their young mothers.
Florence Crittenton is a very unique place. Its residents are troubled teen mothers or mothers-to-be. But for their mother-hood or mother-to-be status, these troubled girls would be prime candidates for a wilderness program, residential treatment center or emotional growth/therapeutic boarding school. However, since their pregnancy precludes their participation in any of these more traditional interventions, Florence Crittenton has developed a total program to fulfill all their physical and emotional needs through the pregnancy and the critical months following delivery.
Florence Crittenton was one of many centers established throughout the country about 110 years ago. At that time they were known collectively as homes for "wayward" girls. Most of the centers have maintained a focus on girls with problems, while keeping up with the times. Each Center is independently owned and operated, but most have maintained the mission of helping girls in trouble. However, the center in Helena has developed a unique intensive approach focused on working with troubled girls with the dual problem of pregnancy as well as emotional problems and out-of-control behaviors.
They have room for up to 16 girls to live there, supported by about 50 staff. Normal pregnancy needs are meet at the program as well as treatment for a multitude of emotional problems such as drug abuse, attachment disorders or any problem any other residential treatment center would deal with. However, their emphasis on is developing attachment and bonding, both with their baby and with others. They feel that this is probably the most important lesson a young mother can learn.
Attachment is very important at the Center since they feel that one of the most important things a new mother can learn is to develop a lasting positive attachment with her baby. Most of the young mothers come there without a clue on how to develop positive relationships with anybody, let alone with a baby. From a girl's first day there, everything is focused on helping her learn how to do right by her baby and in the process help her learn how to appreciate and love her baby.
While we were on our tour, we saw several young mothers playing with, bathing and spending time with their babies, with staff there to help, encourage and provide needed support. There were smiles all around with young mothers and staff simply enjoying the babies. The nursery was well equipped, and there was even a playground outside. Each girl had her own private bedroom, each with tasteful personal decorations of her own choosing, and a crib so each girl could sleep in the room with her baby or prepare her personal space for the anticipated baby.
The facility provides a very secure environment to protect the safety of the young women and their children as they go through the program. Some of the girls work part time jobs or take educational courses in the community as well while there.
Spending time there was emotionally uplifting, and the girls residing there are extremely lucky to have found this place. If you are ever in Helena and want to have an emotional uplift by seeing a better future in the making, Florence Crittenton could provide that experience.