Expanding care for mothers battling addiction

Horizons reaches more than 350 women each year through outreach and screening and provides treatment services to approximately 250 women and children.

UNC Horizons is a substance abuse treatment programme for pregnant and parenting women and their children, including those who have experienced abuse and violence. A programme of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill, it works to build up women’s confidence, help them overcome addictions and bond better with their children.


Horizons was set up because the regular paths for treatment did not meet the needs of abused women struggling with addictions. “Our discovery was that we needed an option where people could get substance abuse treatment but try to keep their families intact,” said Dr John Thorp, UNC Horizons Program, Executive Medical Director. Horizons is a unique programme in that staff take the time to listen to the women who come through the doors, offering psychiatric care and day care in addition to regular services.


Many women who come to the clinic have battled addictions for years and despair of ever being free from them. Often a child is the main motivating factor behind them asking for help. “I’d been using for over ten years and it was just an ongoing thing... I mean I could not stop no matter what I tried,” said one Programme participant. “I did anything I could to make money to buy drugs. I stole from friends, manipulated people, especially my family, to get money.” Her daughter was five months old when the mother came to Horizons. “That’s what motivated me,” she said. “I wanted a better way of life for my child; I wanted this really bad.”


“I think having a baby is a teachable moment,” explained Dr Thorp. “I think they’ve promised themselves... while they can’t do it for themselves, they will do it for someone else... they will do it for their offspring. So I think Horizons leverages that resolve and helps give them tools to take that resolve and turn it into action.”


Many of the women who come to the clinic looking for help have histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse, neglect, deprivation and poverty. In the 2011 – 2012 annual report, Horizons reported that out of the 134 new admissions: 41 per cent had suffered physical abuse as a child; 57 per cent reported a history of sexual abuse (with a majority saying the first assault happened at age 12 or under); and 66 per cent had experienced domestic violence in their lifetimes. “It doesn’t excuse the drug-use behaviour,” explained one UNC Horizons worker. “But it puts (it) in context... so many women have to use drugs to survive the really horrific things that have happened to them.”


“One thing I love about this programme is that they never give up on you, and even if you have given up on yourself, they will say something that will make you realise that you are not alone.”

- Horizons participant


UNC Horizons began treating clients in 1993. It currently reaches more than 350 women each year through outreach and screening and provides treatment services to approximately 250 women and children.


Horizons provides women with a recovery and relapse-prevention programme for substance abuse and offers individual and group counselling to help in the process of healing from abuse and violence. It also assists the women to rebuild their lives by helping them to find employment, manage finances and build healthy relationships.


“Often when women come to us, they come after an entire lifetime of being told they’re not good enough, they’re not smart enough, they’re not pretty enough... they’ve spent their whole lives being told what they can’t do. And what Horizons does is help them figure out what they can do...”

- Horizons staff member


“Horizons provides a safe environment, free from drugs, free from violence ,” said a UNC Horizons staff member. “It provides (the women) with a secure context that they need – to put their life back together, to get a job, to find that house, to put their relationship with their child together, to reunify with their families.”


Expanding Horizons

Currently the building that Horizons rents is dark, in disrepair and too small to allow for the full operation of its programmes, limiting it in the number of children it can serve. Horizons has identified a new site that is larger, centrally located, easily accessible to public transport and close to the UNC Hospital. The new space will enable Horizons to significantly increase the capacity of the childcare centre, expand programming to include evening activities and provide a bright, cheerful and nurturing environment for staff and clients.


Oak was the first funder to commit significant funds for the project and is proud to support the expansion. Oak welcomes the opportunity to help provide better care to increasing numbers of mothers battling addiction and to their children.

Young mothers and their children at UNC Horizons, which provides a substance abuse treatment programme for pregnant and parenting women and their children. Many have experienced abuse and violence.


© UNC Horizons


Source: Oak Foundation Annual Report


Year of publication: 2014




Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. With offices in Europe, Africa, India and North America, we make grants to organisations in approximately 40 countries worldwide.


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