Successes, failures of Vt. child protection system - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Successes, failures of Vt. child protection system

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Maghon Luman and her 6-year-old daughter Hailey love doing projects. The walls of their Essex Junction apartment are lined with their assorted creations.

But life wasn't always so happy.

"It became a problem when she was eight months old. At that point I was using every day," said Luman.

Maghon says her life spiraled out of control because of her drug addiction. She knew she had to get into treatment, but did not want to leave her daughter. She finally found the Lund Residential Treatment Center when Hailey was 3 years old.

Maghon: What was lund?

Hailey: Home.

Maghon and Hailey lived at Lund for nine months. While there, Maghon says she not only received treatment for substance abuse problems, but learned how to rebuild a productive and stable life.

Maghon says one of the biggest things her drug addiction took from her was patience. She says she turned to yelling and anger because she did not know how to deal with her emotions.

"Lund actually taught me how to be able to focus in on some small tasks. Whether it's doing the dishes to folding laundry or just going for a walk, how to divert my attention to something that I can control until I can get myself in a better situation," said Maghon.

Maghon says she also learned how to communicate better with Hailey.

"Lund had taught me through the education classes that children at that age don't understand what you're saying. What am I doing that you're not supposed to? And they will respond better if you say 'no thank you can you please not drag your coat,'" said Maghon.

Officials from Lund call it a comprehensive approach. Women can live with their children, receive substance abuse treatment, counseling for mental health issues and undergo parent education.

Another of Lund's graduates is Nytosha Laforce, the Winooski woman charged with killing her 14- month-old child Peighotn Geraw.

Laforce was required to enter the Lund program by the Department for Children and Families after a criminal conviction. She lived at Lund with Peighton for six months before graduating from the program and regaining full custody. And court documents reveal Laforce's probation officer questioned how quickly she moved through the program.

Kim Coe, who runs the residential treatment program, declined to address Laforce's case directly. She says Lund gives moms the tools they need to break the cycles of addiction and poverty, but does not guarantee success.

Reporter Shelby Cashman: Is a mom coming to a place like Lund sufficient to break that cycle and get to the root of the problem?

Coe: I think never in and of itself is that sufficient, this is really a community problem that can never be solved by one agency or one organization.

DCF also declined to discuss the Geraw investigation directly. But both DCF and Lund say that the rise in opiate abuse has in some ways outpaced the child protection systems in place.

"We are also aware of the fact that over the past several years, Vermont has dealt with an increase of the use of opiates and the impact on our caseload has been pretty significant in terms of rise and danger that’s created for kids," said DCF Operations Director Karen Shea

DCF says a recent poll of caseworkers reveals that last year 113 children under 3-years-old came into DCF custody. In 69 percent of those cases opiates were a factor.

While the system tries to catch up, parenting classes are a regular part of case plans. Lund would not allow us into its classes. But Milton Family Community Center did.

Kelly Hughes teaches the Learning Together program at the Milton Family Community Center another DCF approved parenting education class. It's a program similar to Lund, except the mothers here do not live at the center.

During this class, Hughes and her students, who wanted to remain anonymous, are learning about the power of words and how they can affect their children.

"So thats its really possible for a word to mean something different to you, as an individual when you were 6 versus when you're 20," said Hughes.

Hughes says she tries to instill one very important idea.

"Becoming a parent is definitely a life changer but it doesn't have to be a life ender," said Hughes.

And she says part of that is teaching her students to change the way they make decisions.

"As a young adult, you're constantly being told how to think and what to think and then all of the sudden you're pregnant and this new life comes and now those decisions not only effect you, but this little person who is so dependent on you," said Hughes.

Skills that Maghon says she learned at Lund. It’s been three years since she left and she now works for the city of Burlington's Offender Reentry Program. She says she continued with outpatient treatment and still keeps in touch with her Lund case worker.

"I think every girl that goes to Lund, they're going to leave Lund with what they want to leave with. If they don't want to learn anything, then they're not going to learn anything," said Maghon.

Maghon says the road has been bumpy.

"When people talk about my success, I don't ever see it as success. I just see it as putting together the pieces that I destroyed for her," said Maghon.

But she did it for her daughter who she calls her 6-year-old future comedian.

In part three of our series, Elizabeth Keatinge will take a look at the foster care system. While DCF says reunification of families is the goal, sometimes children start over in new and loving homes.

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