JF&CS News December 2015

"Having a baby as a single parent is hard enough as it is. Adding a layer of substance use is an added stress, something most other parents don't have. Project NESST® (Newborns Exposed to Substances: Support and Therapy) has helped me be the mother I always knew I could be," says Leah, a Project NESST client and mother of a 16-month-old baby girl.

Project NESST offers flexible support for substance-exposed newborns and their families. While some programs focus on the medical needs of infants exposed to opioids, prescription medications, or substances, this pioneering program addresses the emotional and psychological challenges of being the parent of a substance-exposed newborn, supporting the mother in her ability to meet her baby's needs in an attuned way.

Divided into two components, the program offers both clinical services and peer mentoring, free of charge, to families throughout Greater Boston. Support is available in clients' homes or community settings throughout pregnancy, during the baby's hospital stay, through the transition from hospital to home, and up until the baby's third birthday. The therapeutic aspect of the program also offers infant-parent therapy sessions and consultation to address the baby's unique development, sleep, and feeding needs. Therapy sessions are conducted by experienced clinicians who focus on the psychological issues and struggles that impact recovery and parenting. Support and case management services are also available through Mentoring Moms: peer mentors who have successfully navigated the challenges of recovery themselves and who can offer connections to community resources and services aimed at recovery.

Leah, a single mom, found out about Project NESST through a parenting class she was taking. Her daughter was living with relatives due to Leah's relapse to alcohol dependence. At the parenting class, Leah asked if there were any resources available specifically for someone who was sustaining recovery and trying to be the best parent she could be. After contacting JF&CS, Leah was paired with a Project NESST clinician who visits her once a week. "It's a great program," says Leah. "If I have any questions, [my clinician] is always available by phone or by text. It's nice to be able to reach out – even if she's just confirming that I'm doing the right thing."

"Project NESST provides compassionate support to moms in recovery so that they and their children can thrive," adds Jennifer Meyerhardt, Project NESST Mentoring Mom Coordinator and Clinician.

Ellie Svenson, a JF&CS Board member, provided the philanthropic support for the program through her family foundation. She shared a similar sentiment: "Project NESST is important to me because we are addressing the needs of a most vulnerable population. I am thrilled that through Project NESST Leah was able to find the support that she needed. As moms we all share concerns about our parenting. NESST's focus on the emotional and psychological needs of the relationship provides an opportunity for vulnerable moms like Leah to shamelessly bring their parenting struggles and challenges to a supportive clinician."

"When you're in recovery, people can be very judgmental. There is a sense of shame in asking certain questions regarding parenting," Leah affirms. "People in recovery get answers like, ‘You would know this if you hadn't relapsed' or ‘If you didn't drink, then you would have known this.' Project NESST makes me feel less ashamed. I can ask questions I otherwise wouldn't ask anyone else out of fear that my words could be used against me."

Leah is now a confident mom. "I know my daughter and I will have a better life because of this program."