by Mary Peterson, Housing Specialist
In the last year, two well-established housing programs shifted their model to include housing post-birth care, responding to the needs of moms once baby arrives.
The Liberty Godparent Home, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, was founded in 1982, and added mom-and-newborn housing services in 2015.
“Our founder knew that the alternative to abortion was to walk with women through pregnancy,” Janelle Basham, the home’s executive director noted. “As time progressed, we’ve learned that the women need more support than what a few months is able to provide.”
Prior to the shift, the home saw clients struggling to bond with newborns, as well as transitioning out of the home.
“We knew that if we gave them just a little more time that they would be more successful,” Basham said.
That expectation set into motion a major programmatic shift, moving from a “pregnancy-only” model to a “mom-and-baby” model.
Mark McDougal, Executive Director of Ruth Harbor in Des Moines, Iowa, recently led his organization through a similar process.
“The birth of the [mom-and-baby] program is a lot like bringing a child home from the hospital: you have lots of information upfront, but it’s a new world once it begins, McDougal said. “The reality of the change really set in once our first baby came to the house.”
Asked about what the changes to their ministries entailed, Basham and McDougal noted major questions they had to address during the process.
“It’s been a beautiful experience for the staff,” Basham said. “But we’ve had to ask ourselves about boundaries. For example, ‘How much is the staff going to bond with the child?’ We didn’t want to build a program that created a traumatic event for the child when the mom transitioned out of the house.”
The spectrum of details included some unexpected nuances for McDougal’s ministry.
“I didn’t realize the benefits of having a bathtub,” he said. “It makes bathing an infant so much easier. Welcoming babies made me more aware of the relationship between our physical property and our program.”
Other areas of change have included shifting the Board perspective, recognizing new funding needs (i.e. diapers, baby supplies, baby safety), addressing scheduling changes, and developing new staff methods related to the immediacy of the infants needs, according to Basham and McDougal.
Both leaders did express concern about the impact that having babies in the house will have on adoption-minded clients.
“We’ve definitely seen an influence,” McDougal said. “It’s just something we have to adjust for.”
"Fundamentally, it is the same process whether women are parenting or placing [for adoption],” Basham said. “We help each young lady create a plan for her child and walk through the plan and into reality. Part of our role is to remind a woman why she made her plan. Having babies in the home creates room to have that discussion on a regular basis.”
Although both spoke openly about the challenges faced throughout the process, both Basham and McDougal are convinced expanding their services was the right path forward for their home.
“Now our organization is encouraging women in choosing life and in equipping them to be a good mother,” Basham said. “We are ensuring that the child is safe during a crucial time of development.”
“But, the reality is, we have to be flexible,” McDougal said. “Meeting the needs of our community means that things may change again.”