With Children at Stake, Parents with Addiction Issues Battle Bureacracy

By: Joe D’Amore – Sept. 1, 2015


She was a woman in love with a man who could not help her with her addictions    At the age of 11 she took her first drink and from there a nightmarish escalation materialized starting with prescription drugs, cocaine and eventually heroin.  Even the methods to deliver the poison of choice evolved; from ingestion, to smoking to ultimately shooting it into her veins to garner the most intensive experiences required to remove her from facing consequences in a life of perpetual chaos.

Sexually abused as a child, a life of crime, long periods of incarceration at Framingham MCI rounded out a broken life that seemingly one, in such circumstances, could only escape marginally through drug addiction.  Interspersed throughout were periods of failed recovery ranging from honest attempts to false ones.

But in the throes of  her despair the union produced two beautiful children and thereby she began a new chapter in life; part breathtaking, part surreal, all of it tragic.  This is the story of a woman who is willing to tell it; Angela Chalifour  of Lynn.

Ms Chalifour’s  experience with the matted, tangled, web of the criminal justice system and her battle to fulfill the “permanency goal” of the Department of Children & Families (DCF) as mother who should raise her children is a study in broken lives proliferated by broken bureaucracy.

The central issue remains; her children were whisked away into a life of uncertainty and separation from their mother and remain in the custody of the DCF through foster care.   Though no direct criticism against case workers who bear a terrible burden to protect children is warranted, the process and conditions under which they endure their vital work should be illuminated. Improvement is essential.

Most people don’t know  is that addicted persons who want help often fail to get it  because there are almost insurmountable barriers to having access to it.    The overarching condition is simply an insufficient number of beds and facilities.  Compounding the problem are other issues such as so called “ Half-Way” houses which do not admit candidates unless they are actually addicted and need detox.  Incredibly, Angela  experienced several episodes where she was “ clean” but would not be admitted to a facility .   A similar scenario exists with hospitals refusing to admit someone for complications related to illicit drugs .   They will treat the immediate symptoms at best and then show them the door.   And finally, detoxification is typically available for four days, for those with little to no insurance.   This is just barely enough to help remove physical dependency.    Without further treatment and counseling which is really needed for many weeks and months, it is common for those with best intentions to fall back to their old ways of life- addicted.

In short, Ms. Chalifour’s  struggle has been a swirling saga to “section “ herself into recovery and yet being barred from it because of lack of” qualifications”.

The current legal battle line is that her children are kept away from her because she had one re-lapse  in 3 years of recovery. She overcame that episode quickly and her file fully documented this.    However, agencies and case workers have poor means of sharing case-file information that would show the remarkable, determined and progressive journey of this woman towards living a drug-free life.   So what is happening  is that isolated decisions by case workers can negatively “profile” a person inadvertently.     Furthermore, few agency workers accept that re-lapse is often a normal and necessary “sign post” in the recovery spectrum.  Recovery is a spectrum and on it is often episodes of re-lapse.

But Ms Chalifour’s  story is not over though.   She is actively involved in a church and is a social advocate for homeless and addicted persons working in a street ministry that literally scrape broken and addicted people off the streets in places like Lawrence, Lynn and Lowell.  She has helped countless victims of addiction and has offered prayers hope as  steps towards recovery.   She certainly gets their attention when she tells her story and offers credible, tentative steps for a way out from a life of addiction.

In the meantime, her legal challenge with DCF is to get a chance to for  her children to grow up with their mother .  And this is the hope of thousands in her situation  who through their fortitude and the help of a compassionate few labor to overcome a dislocated system after they have overcome their addictions.

The system has elements that work really well, especially when protecting the most vulnerable children in society.   But ultimately the restoration of the family as the primary means to save children must become what agencies excel at.  Their ability to correctly re-classify genuinely transformed parents who can adequately raise children   is the   “renaissance” needed in social service agencies today.

Regarding Ms Chalifour’s  case  for now, the devil is mired in the details  and many are wishing her and her children a good outcome.

Joe D’Amore is a member of the Board of Selectmen from Groveland