By Fia Curley
It was the late 90s and Tanya Long was living two lives. To the outside world, she seemed to be a loving parent to her two children, but Long's addiction to crack cocaine and homelessness diminished her role as a nurturing mother as fear and her desire for more drugs plagued her.
"I was afraid all the time," Long said. "I was afraid I was going to get high that day. I was afraid I wasn't going to get high that day."
After becoming homeless, having two children 18 months apart and feeling that she had run out of options, Long said she knew she needed to make a choice: the drugs or her children.
"My bottom was when I didn't think I had any more choices—that it had beat me and it was going to be my master," the 48-year-old said.
Long's children won out and she sought help through an outpatient drug treatment program in order to end her 20-year affair with alcohol and drug abuse. She also checked into a homeless shelter and began attending weekly meetings at Parents Anonymous.
After five months, the Columbus, Ohio, native said she was able to secure housing and has since become a stronger parent, able to help other parents through her involvement in the National Leadership Team of Parents Anonymous. She has been sober since 1999.
According to Dr. Lisa Pion-Berlin, CEO of Parents Anonymous, Inc., a nonjudgmental, inclusive atmosphere has been a strong selling point for these groups across the country.
Founded in 1969, Parents Anonymous, Inc., serves about 20,000 parents and their children annually, and about half of their participants are minorities, according to Pion-Berlin. Trends in meeting attendance are shifting, she said, as more single fathers and parents who feel that they need parenting advice take part in meetings due to word-of-mouth advertising.
"There have been programs running for 30 years because people saw how there was so much incredible change in their lives, and the life of the facilitator, that they wanted it to keep going," she said. "So we're not a white-bred upper class women's group (with members) who are having a bad day."
Meetings are attended on a voluntary basis, led by certified facilitators and run by the parents. There are no guest lecturers or schedules; just parents discussing topics they feel are relevant in their lives.
"Shared leadership is the essence of everything we do," Pion-Berlin said. "We want everyone to come together. We talk about how we fell down this week and how you pick yourself up and make it to next week."
Fellow parents provide a support system, helping new attendees feel welcome, offering support outside of meetings and relieving parents who feel pressured to be perfect.
That pressure, along with job and life stresses, can result in abuse or neglect.
In 2004, there were 872,000 cases of confirmed child victimization based on the 3.5 million investigations, an increase of 32.4 percent from 1990, according to the Child Protective Services.
According to Dr. Edward W. Sites, Professor Emeritus of Child Welfare Education and Research at the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, child abuse is the outcome of various factors, making it difficult to create a standardized approach.
"What's true for one family is not true for another," Sites said. "Abuse comes from a lot of different sources, but many of them are interpersonal."
Factors such as mental health and drug and alcohol abuse compound situations in which parents haven't learned proper parenting skills, he said.
Sites said one of the solutions is to bring help to the parents by equipping them with the proper information before situations arise, instead of waiting until parents mistreat their children.
Dr. Melissa Jonson-Reid, associate professor in the School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, said she thought a more systematic approach would be necessary to provide children with stable homes.
"If you really want to prevent child abuse, it's a really expensive proposition," she said. "It's about looking into our communities and looking at several things, business opportunities, access to early childhood support…It's just putting it all together, and it hasn't happened yet."
To add fuel to the fire, child molestation is thought of as the most common form of child abuse.
"What you find in the news is a lot of about sexual abuse, a little about physical abuse and almost nothing about neglect, but you should invert the three," she said.
Although neglect is more prevalent, Jonson-Reid said it doesn't start out at one level and become more severe, but it is a chronic problem. Most often, child abuse victims are three years old and younger.
Pion-Berlin said family time is encouraged and parents can bring their children, infants to teens, to the more structured children's meeting, which takes place at the same time, providing assistance to the entire family.
Augusto Minakata was a co-facilitator for three years before he was promoted to California Senior Program Coordinator for Parents Anonymous, Inc. He saw the Pomona Spanish-Speaking Parents Meeting grow from a few individuals to about 18 families, bringing an average of four children.
Minakata said he fills in occasionally for a facilitator who can't make a meeting and often looks forward to getting those requests.
"It was a wonderful experience because we started this from scratch," Minakata said. "I really connect with the community, and I love working with the parents."
The Pomona group is now five-years old and touting some of the same members who have been there since the beginning.
Minakata said he was not used to the Parents Anonymous' shared leadership approach, but he soon got the hang of things as he stepped back and served as a resource, occasionally providing different parenting strategies and information on topics the parents requested.
"They run the program, and they tailor that group to their needs," he said. "They learn to share their struggles as well as their successes."
Long-term membership is not uncommon. Tanya Long, who is now taking classes at Columbus State, still attends Parents Anonymous meetings. She boasts of the positive results occurring throughout generations of her family, such as the close relationships with her children, their newly displayed leadership and positive conversations with her mother and brothers. She said she is well aware of where she could have been if it weren't for Parents Anonymous.
"There's no doubt in my mind my kids would be in foster care and I would be in jail serving some sentence for prostitution, stealing or something worse," she said. "It's been a blessing to me and my family and the other people in the meetings."
Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
National Child Abuse Prevention Month
Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect
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