It took less than a year for Yesenia Campos’ life to fall apart after she started smoking crack in 2002.
She lost her job at a Tucson pizza parlor, and her car was repossessed. Her children — Jason, 5, and Ariana, 3 — were removed by CPS and placed with their father, her ex-boyfriend. Her CPS case plan mandated rehab, but Campos was just going through the motions in an effort to get her kids back.
“I was still in denial,” she says. “I thought I could do it on my own.”
In 2003, she hit rock bottom when CPS took her third child, a newborn daughter, from her at Northwest Hospital.
Campos had walked into Northwest Hospital, in labor, weighing barely 100 pounds.
“In my mind, I was taking my baby home and we’re gonna live happily ever after,” she remembers.
In reality, her baby, Dyanika, was born addicted to crack.
Today, Campos is grateful CPS took Dyanika that day. But at the time, she was grieving and overwhelmed by guilt, and she turned to crack to escape it.
“I was so broken,” she says. “I didn’t even like to look at myself in the mirror because of all I’d done to myself and to my kids and to my family.”
What turned Campos’ life around was Family Drug Court, a voluntary program for parents with dependency cases. Part of a national program affiliated with local dependency courts, Family Drug Court provides accountability and intensive support to parents with dependency cases who are dealing with addiction.
The program has a 90 percent parent-child reunification rate, compared with about 50 percent for the general CPS population.
Campos got weekly check-ins with her Drug Court judge, and a devoted recovery specialist who offered unconditional support throughout her recovery — even when Campos relapsed again and again. Her case specialist’s compassion was critical in helping Campos deal with her shame and find the strength to get clean — not for CPS or even for her children, but for herself.
“They believed in me, and I lived off their faith. That’s how I made it every day. By doing that one day at a time, I was able to see what they saw,” she says.
Campos received trauma counseling during her second attempt at rehab, which was the first time she confronted her own childhood abuse and family dysfunction. Once the underlying causes driving her to numb her emotions were addressed, she says, her recovery could take root.
About two-thirds of Pima County parents involved with CPS struggle with substance abuse, and even more are living with untreated childhood trauma, which is linked to depression, suicide and joblessness, says Chris Swenson-Smith, director of children and family services for Pima County Juvenile Court.
“The problems are far deeper than a lack of parenting skills,” she says. Many CPS families have a good chance at reunification “if you can look at the parents as kids who didn’t get help.”
Trauma-informed therapy wasn’t officially part of drug court when Campos took part, but today it’s a central piece of the program.
Even one trauma-informed therapy session can completely alter a parent’s outlook and ability to parent, Swenson-Smith says.
“You’re not undoing what happened. You’re simply helping somebody recognize why they feel the way they feel,” she said. “Once you recognize what childhood trauma does to you, you don’t want to do it to your kids.”
Less than 10 percent of CPS parents in Pima County participate in the voluntary Family Drug Court, which operates parallel to a family’s dependency court case. But with the recent hire of three more recovery support specialists, the program is recruiting more participants, says program manager Anne Chamberlin.
Today Campos — now a recovery support specialist for Family Drug Court — has been sober for nine years. She and her husband of seven years, Francisco, have full custody of their two children, Dyanika, now 10, and Iyari, 8. Campos shares custody of her two older children with their father, who also lives in Tucson.
The sense of self-worth that Family Drug Court helped her discover hasn’t faded, she says.
“Nobody,” she says, “will come between me and my recovery.”