Monthly Archives: May 2012

Site Visit: Salvation Army Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program

DCF Secretary David Wilkins talks about his recent visit to the Salvation Army Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program in Panama City

DCF Secretary David WilkinsThey told me about a woman who thought she was “going crazy.” Her husband would move furniture around in their house while she was out volunteering. When she returned and asked about the new arrangement, he would tell her the furniture had always been like that. It was a control tactic. Her husband was never physical, but the name-calling and mind games were getting worse. They had been married for 46 years.

The woman came to the Salvation Army Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program not because she thought she was the victim of domestic abuse, but because she was worried she was actually losing her grip on reality. Her counselors at the program said that during therapy it was like a light bulb lit up and the blinders came off. She realized she had lost her identity; she didn’t have a sense of who she was anymore. What her husband was doing was wrong and she didn’t have to take it. She eventually left the marriage and moved in with her son.

The Safe House at the Salvation Army Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Program

I heard many stories about victims and survivors when I visited the program’s Safe House recently. The statistics they told me were eye-opening. In 2008, they helped 850 women a year. Now they serve 1,200. In 2008, 60 kids were in the Safe House at some point. In the past year, more than 110 have stayed there.

I also heard about a woman who was into heavy drinking with her husband. He became abusive. A series of events left them addicted to drugs and without a home – literally eating out of trash cans. He was still beating her. She was in and out of domestic violence shelters for awhile, but eventually her husband beat her very badly and ended up doing time in jail. This time she came to the program and started rehab at Bethel Village. She also comes to the program’s counseling services. She is clean, sober, employed and safe.

Domestic violence comes in all shapes and sizes. It does not discriminate based on race, gender, location or household income.  I heard of another woman who was living in an upper class neighborhood in the area. She was married to a wealthy doctor who also beat her. She wanted to leave, but he had put all of the family’s debt in her name. If she had left on her own she would have been drowning in debt with no means to support herself. The program helped give her resources like free food, shelter and counseling so she could get out.

I was pleased to see the great work going on at the program and am inspired by these survivors. DCF and the program work closely together to ensure batterers are held accountable for their behavior. Batterers’ actions place their partners, children, family and friends in danger.

If you or a loved one may be a victim of domestic violence, please call the Hotline immediately: 1-800-500-1119. You are not alone and we are here to help you.


Surviving depression, suicide and the aftermath

Guest post by Jackie Rosen, executive director/CEO of Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention Inc., author, and a survivor of her son’s death by suicide.

We knew he was depressed – severely depressed – so we got him into therapy, on medication and watched him constantly. We did everything we could to help our son, but one night while we were asleep he snuck out of the house and died by suicide.

I remember those first few days and weeks that were filled with disbelief and sheer terror. I remember those moments of uncontrolled crying and not being able to breathe.  I remember looking at his picture and thinking how could he leave me, his father, his sister, his grandparents and all these other people who cared so much for him.

I now know it was not my fault. And not his fault. It was the chemical imbalances and biological changes in his brain that took his life.

We found out later that the night before he died, he had visited five of his friends to say goodbye. But none of them heard or understood that what he was really saying was that he was depressed, suicidal and planning to end his pain. That is why it is so important to listen carefully to what a person is really saying, know the signs of depression, take them seriously and offer to help.

Imagine that you were burned over all of your body and cannot stop the pain.  And then, no matter what you did, you felt that the pain will never go away and that you were a burden to your family. You think they would be better off without you.  You would feel absolutely alone with this pain and you would be sure it will never stop.  This is similar to the emotional pain suicidal patients sometimes feel. Their brains make them helpless to their disease and feeling hopeless.

We tried so hard to help him, and he was willing and glad to get the help, but in this case it wasn’t enough. However, most often the intervention techniques we used DO work. Ninety percent of people that die by suicide had illnesses that could have been treated.

Here are some warning signs that might indicate your loved one could be thinking about suicide:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Talking about death
  • Recent loss of a loved one
  • Saying goodbye to friends
  • Having plan for how they would die by suicide

Here are some ways you can help them:

  • Convince them to try therapy and medical treatment
  • Tell them they are loved and deserve to feel better
  • Do not leave them alone
  • Don’t give up – keep trying to help them


To find mental health and substance abuse recovery facilities in your area, visit our online directory.

Excerpts from Ms. Rosen’s (pen name Helene Levin) book The Butterfly on My Shoulder: A Grief Journey of Love and Growth to Inspire Healing have been included in this blog post.

Site Visit: FACES

DCF Secretary David Wilkins talks about his recent visit to Families and Communities Empowered for Success (FACES), a Miami organization that works with youth and families to strengthen mental health care. 

DCF Secretary David WilkinsSix siblings in a single-parent home. Dropping out of school. Being discharged from the military because of drugs. A divorce.  More drug use.

Life did not start well for Aaron K. Alvin Sr. But he overcame it. He entered rehab and overcame his addiction to drugs and completely turned his life around. He now has a Master’s degree and is working to help others get help for their addictions.

Aaron’s story was just one of many shared during my recent visit to FACES’ Youth and Family Empowerment Summit. The event brought together families and youth to empower them to take control of their mental health.

The artwork the children produced amazed me. Paintings, photos, drawing, music. This was the real deal. The artwork was a way for them to express their mental health recovery. These kids have been on quite a journey. Here are a few samples:

Their choir, a Youth MOVE group, sang a cappella at the event. Check out the video below to hear one of their previous performances:

FACES partners with local schools, the Department of Juvenile Justice, Family Safety, the Federation of Families, Florida International University, substance abuse and mental health providers, and many local businesses to give their kids the tools they need to live their lives. These public-private partnerships are exactly what we are trying to do all over Florida. It is vital to providing services for our kids.


If you or a family member needs help with mental health or substance abuse, visit our online directory.


We must protect Florida’s newborn babies from drug addiction

Guest post by William Liu, M.D., corporate medical director of Pediatrix Medical Group of Florida, Inc. and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit medical director of The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida

From 2005 to 2010, Lee County hospitals have seen a 700 percent increase in the number of babies born with a drug addiction.  Statewide, based upon data from the Agency for Health Care Administration, this problem has increased by about 430 percent in the same time period.

When a baby is born addicted to drugs, the child goes through withdrawal similar to how an adult going through rehabilitation would. Withdrawal in babies can include uncontrollable crying, inability to sleep or eat normally, throwing up, diarrhea, sweating, breathing problems, and in severe cases, seizures. This should not be the way for a human being to enter the world. Watching a newborn go through withdrawal is absolutely heartbreaking.

However, once a woman who is dependent on narcotics becomes pregnant they should not try to stop taking the medication, whether prescribed legally or taken illegally. If the mother tries to go through withdrawal while pregnant, the baby in the womb is at risk for active withdrawal, leading to poor development, early delivery or even death.  Instead, a controlled treatment program is suggested, with methadone presently considered the most effective drug for pregnant mothers who are addicted to pain killers.  To avoid this complication, it is extremely important that women are drug-free or have a pregnancy plan BEFORE they get pregnant.

Prescription drugs are a growing concern and it appears that the increase in babies born addicted to drugs is directly related to an increase in prescription drug abuse.

Today, unlike the cocaine epidemic of the 1970s and 80s, pain killers are legal and legitimately prescribed for pain relief.  While there are mothers with a history of addiction and doctor shopping, there are also mothers who claim surprise, shock and dismay, unaware and uninformed of the potential consequences of their treatments, having acquired their prescriptions legally and under the trusting care of a doctor.

The great majority of physicians are dedicated to the betterment of their patients, doing their best to balance many factors to achieve the best possible outcomes.  However, the art of medicine utilizes a complex decision tree, weighing risk and benefit on many levels.

State and national awareness is indeed increasing, but the problem still exists – and is growing. I urge women of child-bearing age who are currently on prescription pain medication, illegally or legally, to talk to their doctor about a pregnancy plan, just in case. No baby should have to experience the pain of drug addiction or withdrawal, especially during their first days of life. 


For information about substance abuse and mental health facilities in your area, visit our online searchable directory.

Part 2, Site Visit: Children’s Home Society

DCF Secretary David WilkinsDCF Secretary David Wilkins blogs about his recent visit to Children’s Home Society

Emersond Jean-Baptiste, a dependency case manager at Children Home Society in Tallahassee, was working on a judicial review when I got there for a visit. He was compiling information from a foster child’s teachers, foster parents, coaches, and doctors, anyone who is in the child’s life. These are done every five to six months and are presented to a judge – a kind of status update to make sure the child is doing okay and an opportunity to address any issues. Emersond wants to make the judges feel like they are actually on scene, not just reading a piece of paper, so he puts in as much information as he can.

I was interested to talk to Emersond. I wanted to know what his day was like, the successes, the difficulties. I was glad to have the opportunity to find out more about what is happening on the front lines.

Emersond told me he now has 16 cases, but that means about 25 kids. One of his single cases is actually five siblings. Few of his cases only have one child. He does home visits for each of the children, but I was glad to hear about the time he was taking with the families.

When he goes to a home he said he takes the children to another room so they can talk freely without the foster parents around. He said the first question is always, “What did you have to eat today?” This seems to get the children to relax and open up. He’ll stop by the children’s room and talk about pictures that are around and activities they are interested in. They often sit on the floor or kick a ball around outside while talking. He’ll ask about school and how they are feeling in the house. He tries to get the kids to separate how they are feeling about being away from their parents and tries to get them to focus on what is actually going on with their foster family, but also makes a point to talk about how the kids are feeling overall.

Emersond tries to go to every doctor’s appointment his kids have. He wants to know what is going on first-hand so he becomes a stable presence for the child, but also so he doesn’t have to spend hours calling doctors to get updates for his reports. This way he has direct knowledge of every aspect of the case. He also likes to make doctor’s appointments an opportunity for biological parents to learn and be with their child. Parents are notified of the appointments and Emersond gets them involved with the child’s care. This way the family has more communication and the parents know what is going on with their child’s health. It helps the learning curve once the family is reunited. There are also times when the parents might not know about services – one mother didn’t know how to get dental care for her son, so Emersond set up an appointment for the child and took the mother to the appointment.

He spoke of the challenges he faces, mainly that so many things need to be done but it is hard to make sure every child gets the same level of care. He talked about how bad he feels when two of his children have doctor’s appointments at the same time and he has to choose one. He worries that the children feel like he is deserting them or that they aren’t important enough for him to be there. But he always makes sure there is a DCF representative with them.

I’m glad to know that our kids have great support from case managers like Emersond. We’ll keep doing everything we can to give them the resources they need to continue helping our kids. We value our front-line staff and will make sure we give them what they need to help our kids succeed.

Here’s a direct quote from Emersond:

“The pleasure and privilege is mine in working for a company that truly cares about the very children we serve! I will forever be grateful.”