Nobody wants to be defined by their challenges but Covid-19 has highlighted a crisis among a population that, in the best of times, was struggling to thrive. Roca believes in the most vulnerable young adults in the Commonwealth. They are a human service organization, with 5 sites across Massachusetts (Boston, Chelsea, Lynn, Holyoke and Springfield) and a site in Baltimore, MD. Roca engages with young adults, police and systems in the center of urban violence to address trauma, find hope and drive change.
The young people that Roca works with live with fear that never turns off. They are at the center of urban violence and poverty, they are court and gang involved, have not finished high school, have no job history and don’t know where they are sleeping tonight. Amongst this group is over 200 of the highest-risk, highly-traumatized, systems-involved young mothers in Massachusetts. They are not willing to accept home visitors, not ready to go to education or training programs, and in need of intensive outreach and case management over several years. This group of young mothers falls between the cracks of most current state and federal funding.
The Covid-19 crisis has drawn these women from the shadows and has truly highlighted the disparities of an already unequal system. While teen pregnancy rates are declining across Massachusetts, they are increasing within this group, exacerbated by increasing domestic violence. When times are tough, more people are in need, which exacerbates these disparities.
Laura started in Roca’s Young Mothers’ Program two years ago when pregnant with her third child, referred by DCF after losing custody of her daughters (then) ages 1 and 3 as a result of domestic violence. She came to Roca with low literacy, diligently worked on her basic literacy and ESL, and finally confronted her reality. She filed a restraining order against per partner and started domestic violence and parenting classes.
After 1.5 years and 3 DCF workers, Laura finally regained custody of her two daughters, now 4 and 6. She got a housing voucher and moved into a small apartment in Everett, ready for a fresh start. Then, the pandemic hit and so did an unprecedented economic crisis.
Laura lost her job, her childcare and was unable to pay her rent. She was threatened with eviction and was unable to get into a shelter. Laura was scared. She had Covid-19 symptoms, but was afraid to get tested out of fear of being separated from her children and potentially losing them again. On May 25, it got worse as Laura found out that she did have Covid-19. “The day started out so great” she said. “I was celebrating because after almost two years, my DCF case was closing. I have worked so hard and now, I am beside myself.”
Sunindiya Bhalla, Chief of 2gen programming at Roca said: “Our young moms program is already experiencing the negative effects of this health and economic crisis. We’ve had to turn away referrals and are looking at graduating some of our participants earlier due to monetary constraints.” When asked to describe her participants, she said “Our young mothers are amazing. They are resilient, courageous and nothing is more important to them than their children. But as we become unable to support the needs of our moms and their kids, they will cost the state even more over the coming years.”
Even during this health crisis, Roca’s nationally recognized programming is transforming the lives of these young women by providing a safe environment for mothers to succeed and for their children to thrive. This team continues to provide socially-distant in person outreach, intensive crisis intervention and case management, and has dramatically increased virtual programming.
Despite their challenges, thirty (30) young mothers have closed their DCF cases with Roca’s help in the past year. In the past three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, young mothers have increased participation in educational and behavioral health programming. Roca has also launched a domestic violence support group and has expanded their parenting classes during a time with it is needed more than ever. ‘We give our moms and their kids the support they need,” said Scott Scharffenberg, executive Director of Roca, MA. “We have engaged and committed partners who like our organization, are forced to tighten our belts and make tough decisions due to this economic crisis that isn’t going away any time soon. “ For more information on Roca, Inc., please go to their website: www.rocainc.org.