Celebrating 30 years of Project Connect

Project Connect keeps children safe and families together. The program serves families statewide who are identified by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). It is designed to support children ages 0-17, their families, and pregnant and parenting youth. We recently sat down with Geneva Washington, Project Connect Home Visitor, and asked about this special program. This October marks nine years since Geneva joined the Project Connect team at Children’s Friend.

Q: What are the program goals?
The children are our focus. Ultimately, we are working to find the most appropriate living situation for the children.

Q: How do you set the individual goals for the people you’re working with?
Geneva: A lot of it depends on why they were referred. If the goal for that parent is reunification, we are trying to get their mental health stabilized, we are trying to get them to achieve sobriety.

Q: What are some of the supports and services Project Connect offers?
Geneva: We have a parent educator that we assign to the case to help clients. The parent educator supports visitations with parents and children. Some of the visitations are supervised, which means someone must constantly be in the room. Others are lightly supervised, which means someone must be close during the visit. The visitation program provides an independent eye to see what’s going on and how the parent interacts with their children.

Q: How do you monitor progress during treatment?
Geneva: Every client has a case plan with the department (DCYF). We help them to achieve each of the goals outlined in the plan. Each goal achieved marks their progression towards reunification.

Q: How often do you meet with clients?
Geneva: Twice a week. 

Q: How do you deal with a crisis or emergency?
Geneva: It depends on how and when that crisis happens. Depending on the nature of the crisis, I help the client work through it and make the appropriate decisions. If it’s calling the police, contacting the landlord, or contacting DCYF. If it’s something beyond that, I work with my supervisor to decide the next steps. In an elevated crisis, this might include getting the family out of the home to someplace safer. We also have an on-call staff person here at Children’s Friend. All our clients have that emergency number, so they have someone to call after hours.  

Q: Are you able to treat clients with dual diagnoses?
Geneva: Many of our clients have mental health issues along with substance abuse issues. So, we help them find mental health support. If it’s mental health support with medication, we monitor their medications and make sure they’re taking them appropriately and as prescribed. We’re in contact with their mental health provider to give updates on what we see in the home and how the clients are presenting. Often, clients end up in substance abuse situations because they are attempting to self-medicate mental health issues, rather than get involved with psychiatric services, so treating the root cause of substance use disorder is important.

Q: What milestones does a client need to achieve to graduate from the program?
Geneva: They need to accomplish their case plan goals laid out by DCYF. We attend court with clients as part of Project Connect. It could be family court, child protection court, or drug court. The requirements for completion for each of them are different. Getting to that point is inspirational, but the closure looks different depending on which court the client is in. 

Q: What continuing care resources are available after a client closes?
Geneva: They can always contact us if they need support. We’re always here for them. If they’ve done Project Connect, we try to get them to get an understanding of the nature of their illness and to stay connected to recovery support, whether that’s getting a recovery coach or a sponsor, or going to meetings. We keep them focused on avoiding anything that would result in a relapse.

I had a client once relapse because she went to a bar. She had been clean and sober for over a year and said that she thought that she was cured. She actually said, “I thought I was cured.” The clients who relapse are usually clients who did everything they needed to do to get their children back, to get clean and sober, but they didn’t do something like get a sponsor or get a recovery coach or go to NA or AA. And obviously, some make choices to get back into bad relationships with people who are substance abusers. Unfortunately, Rhode Island is so small, and we have a big drug problem. With a lot of our clients, especially the low-income clients, what corner can they turn down and not run into a trigger? Where can they stand and wait for a bus and not see a liquor store across the street?

It’s an uphill battle, and there are only so many places they can go to avoid people and places that are triggering.

Q: Is there a time limit for services?
Geneva: We try to say no, and I’ve had some clients for a long time. They’ve opened, they’ve closed, they’ve reopened, but we usually say 18 months. Anyone serious about reunification or recovery can get on the right track. If they accept the support and do the things they need, from start to finish, they can be done within 18 months.

Q: What do you do in cases where a client experiences relapse?
Geneva: Start all over again. If they were not connected with a substance abuse therapy program, we help them to get enrolled in one. We help to try to determine what’s the best program for them. If outpatient is the best for them, then we will make a referral to things like Women’s Day, Project Link, or the Providence Center – whatever is available in the area. If more support is needed, we help get them into an in-house residential program.

Q: What keeps you in this position and coming back to these families?
Geneva: It’s a population that I’ve come to embrace because I understand them, I understand them because of the work I do. I understand them because it’s the family that I come from. I enjoy seeing them accomplish anything, any little accomplishment. If it’s something they’ve never accomplished before it IS an accomplishment. Getting your kids to every medical appointment when they’ve been behind for years is an accomplishment. Getting up and getting your kids to school on time is an accomplishment.

A lot of our clients relapsed during Covid. That was the worst thing that could have happened to people who were struggling to maintain a hold on anything. Their mental health issues, especially depression, were at an all-time high. During that time, even if it was for no other reason than to let them know they’re not alone, I would try to see them in person. I’ve stood out in the rain with an umbrella. I’ve stood out, burning up or sweating on a sunny day. I’ve stood there on a cold day when I couldn’t feel my toes, even though I was only out there for 15 minutes. I prefer that contact because clients understand and appreciate the fact that someone went out of their way to come check on them, to make sure they were okay. They couldn’t even have visits with their children during that shut-in period. Some parents went months without visits. It was tough. It was very difficult, and it was lonely.

I do it because I honestly believe that I have something to offer that population, and I do it because it’s a good job. It’s rewarding.