Amy Lindner is the President & CEO of Meta House, an organization that provides substance use treatment for low-income women in Milwaukee and a wide range of support services for both the women and their children. We recently featured Meta House’s residential program in our guide, Lifting the Burden of Addiction. Here, Ms. Lindner talks to the Center about what makes Meta House’s programming so effective, and how donors can help.
Center: There are hundreds of treatment programs all over the country. How does Meta House fit into the treatment landscape, and what makes your services helpful for the population you serve?
At Meta House, we provide treatment that is specific to the needs of women with substance use disorders. Research and our 50 years of experience have shown us that women do better in women-only treatment, in part because men can be, at best, an enormous distraction for women trying to heal from both from their substance use disorders and trauma. Also, engaging women in treatment usually requires engaging their families as well. It is common to see programs telling people to focus on themselves in treatment, but this approach doesn’t work for women, who are usually caretakers in their families. Oftentimes, women will only agree to residential treatment if they know that their family will be taken care in the meantime. In addition, women who are mothers are typically more committed to their recovery when the importance of their role as a parent is incorporated into treatment. Meta House was one of the first treatment centers in the country to allow children to stay in treatment with their mothers, and we offer a range of services for our clients’ children. We have found that this approach works to keep women in treatment and focused on their recovery.
Additionally, the vast majority of our clients have suffered physical, emotional, or sexual trauma, and Meta House’s treatment approach and staff are very sensitive to that. For example, if a woman refuses to do a kitchen chore because she was previously assaulted in a kitchen, we will work with her to choose a different chore, instead of chastising her for being lazy or uncooperative. Furthermore, instead of imposing our own goals on a woman in treatment, we get to know her early and help her to identify her own priorities. Instead of shaming a woman for her life choices, which has been a common approach to treatment in other programs, we encourage her by emphasizing her strengths as a person and the progress she makes in treatment. As staff, we are not better than our clients. If anything, we are privileged to be able to help them.
Center: The women who receive treatment at Meta House often face difficult life circumstances, but we’ve heard many success stories as well. Can you provide our readers with one example?
One of our staff’s favorite success stories is that of a woman who came to Meta House when she was four weeks pregnant. At the time, she was in opiate withdrawal and had recently spent time in a violent women’s shelter. She couldn’t provide adequate care for her eight-year-old daughter, so she sent her daughter to live with a family member. This client ended up staying in our residential program for a year, during which time she gave birth to a healthy baby and quit smoking. She also voluntarily ended an abusive 19-year relationship after realizing that she could be independent. Eventually she got her other daughter back in her care. Today, she continues to follow up with us through outpatient treatment. Her life has completely changed for the better.
Center: What’s the one thing you wish donors knew about this field?
That people can and do change, and that their dollars can change the lives of women, children, and entire families. We have seen women break patterns of addiction and abuse/neglect that extend back for generations before them. We have seen their recovery completely change the lives of their children and their grandchildren for the better. We have seen women who come from the most devastating circumstances recover and become positive forces for change in their community, including many who now work for Meta House to help other women and families make those changes for themselves. It can take time and patience to overcome all of these barriers and make these kinds of changes. But it happens all the time in the work that we do.
Center: What could Meta House accomplish with an increase in philanthropic funding?
Wow, that’s a hard question – there are so many things we could do! Several immediate items come to mind. One would be to increase clients’ length of stay in residential treatment. Right now, our local county’s payments for residential treatment stop after 75 days. We do our best to keep a client for at least three months, but research suggests that staying in treatment for at least six months is often best. After the 75 days are up, to keep a client in residential treatment for as long as possible, we have to get creative with “braiding” other different sources of funding. Federal dollars to programs like Meta House have been shrinking in recent years and county dollars have been outright plummeting. Therefore, additional philanthropic capital would allow us to extend clients’ length of stay closer to the six-month mark, thereby increasing their chances of recovery.
Another change would be expanding our Child & Family Team of therapists and parenting specialists so we can provide more support for Meta House families. We have found that their work is crucial to healing the entire family unit and supporting long-term change for both our clients and their children.
We would also upgrade some of our facilities, such as installing hygienic stainless steel countertops in the residential kitchens, updating key locks with card access, and adding more lights in the parking lot for security purposes. Some of these changes may seem small, but they can make a big difference to our operations and the families we serve.