Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

At-risk family loses a lifeline

Citizen Staff Writer



Lisa Molina blows up imaginary balloons with her children, enormous globes of yellow, red and orange.

When the balloons nearly fill the room, Molina and her kids let them go, and the family collapses into a giggling heap as they envision the balloons zipping through the air.

What may seem like silly fun is a stress reliever for Molina, a single mom, and her children, Diamond Teran, 5, and Diego Romero, 3.

Deep breathing required to fill up the imaginary balloons helps to calm them, and the activity tames just about any tantrum.

It’s one of the many techniques the Tucson mom has learned from Healthy Families. The program, administered through Child & Family Resources, has provided Molina, 33, with support and services to be the best parent possible.

“Healthy Families has made me a better mom,” she says.

But the family has been cut off from those services after the Arizona Legislature last week gutted Healthy Families’ annual funding of $3.5 million by 75 percent.

It is one of several programs – designed to help vulnerable Tucson families – that have sustained massive cuts in the Legislature’s attempt to balance the budget. (See story, 1A)

Molina, a portrait photographer who lost her job in December, is thankful to have been in the program for three years. She worries about the future without it.

“It makes me feel lost,” she said.

The program provides in-home education and support for parents starting with the birth of their children, and continuing through age 5. The goal of the program is to get families off to the best possible start by preventing child abuse and neglect.

While open to all parents, those selected for the voluntary program often experience one or more risk factors, including poverty, teen parenting, substance abuse, mental health issues or an ongoing crisis. Most in the program, like Molina, were abused or neglected when they children.

The program is successful in breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect, said Eric Schindler, president and CEO of Child & Family Resources. “Ninety-five percent of families we work with stay out of foster care,” he said.

Molina said she has learned about child development and techniques to maximize her children’s learning while minimizing stress that can come with parenting, thanks to family support specialist Emily Clifford. Clifford was laid off last week.

Clifford taught Molina ways of playing with children that encourage learning. She showed Molina how to defuse Diego’s temper. She connected the family with special education services to help with speech delays and other learning issues.

And Clifford provided them with counseling when the family was left stunned by two deaths.

In April 2007, Molina and her daughter were inside a store while Molina’s boyfriend and Diego waited outside. A car pulled up and the boyfriend, with Diego, who was 18 months old at the time, at his side, was shot dead in what Molina says was a case of mistaken identity. The shooter was never arrested.

In May 2008, Molina’s mother died from cancer, leaving Molina’s 9- and 11-year-old brothers in her care.

In December, Molina lost her job, and the family moved in with friends.

Healthy Families provided counseling after Diego and Diamond were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following the shooting.

“If it wasn’t for Healthy Families, I’d be lost,” Molina said. “They were always there for us.”

Pauline Haas-Vaughn, program director for Healthy Families at Child & Family, worries about the 600 families who are losing services in Tucson.

The agency has had to terminate most clinical services, including therapy, because of budget cuts.

“We have families that are actively involved in domestic violence and families dealing with severe depression and one mom who’s suicidal, but we can no longer provide those services,” she said.

With information and support, parents can overcome daunting obstacles, Haas-Vaughn said.

“Our parents want to be better parents,” she said. “They need the tools and skills to be able to do that.”

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