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Health

Helping Women for 25 Years, Drexel Professor Starts New Program

April 2, 2015

Caring Together is an organization which works toward helping women suffering from substance addiction.
Caring Together is an organization which works toward helping women suffering from substance addiction.

It’s been two and a half decades of helping women recover from addiction, but Barbara Schindler is just getting started.

Schindler, MD, a professor in Drexel College of Medicine’s departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, helped found Caring Together in 1990. The program helps women and children overcome drug and alcohol abuse using evidence-based practices, integrated care for psychiatric disorders and trauma-informed care.

Now, Schindler is expanding her scope, launching Working Together for Women in collaboration with Mothers in Charge and the Office of Addiction Services, city of Philadelphia, which is aimed at reducing the recidivism and relapse rate of formerly incarcerated women.

“A year ago, the City of Philadelphia came to us saying, ‘We have a real problem with women coming out of prison,’” Schindler said. “Many of them have issues with drug use and mental health problems, and that leads them to substance-use related crimes, such as selling drugs or prostitution.  We are still in a society that is not very accepting of women who do things like this.”

Barbara Schindler, MD, Drexel professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, founder of Caring Together.
Barbara Schindler, MD, Drexel professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, founder of Caring Together.

As such, Schindler decided to start a new initiative to help those women using the resources and expertise from her original organization.

Caring Together started in the initial height of Philadelphia’s “crack epidemic,” said Schindler, when she was a consultation psychiatrist at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, a predecessor school of Drexel University College of Medicine. She said that 20 to 25 percent of mothers in the city were delivering babies that had been exposed to cocaine at that time.

“The obstetricians and pediatricians were pretty upset,” Schindler said.

As such, she began exploring the possibility of opening a program that would be safe for women and help with their addiction, mental health and medical issues. After getting a $1.5 million grant over three years from the Centers for Substance Abuse Treatment, Caring Together was in business. When the federal money ran out, Philadelphia’s Office of Addiction provided financial support for the program. Their services reached out to those who might not have been able to get help otherwise.

“One of the challenges that people with addiction have is that healthcare providers have  a lot of negative attitudes toward people who have used drugs and alcohol,” Schindler said. “Sometimes you see rejecting clinicians. In our program, you see a lot of positive attitudes toward the clients.”

Partnering with Mothers in Charge, a violence-prevention, community-based organization founded by victims advocate Dorothy Johnson-Speight with its existing pre-release prison programs, has facilitated the creation and launch of Working Together for Women.

Keying off the existing framework of Caring Together, Schindler hopes to provide addiction and mental health treatment services, as well as medical and reunification/reintegration services for women being released from prison.

“About 80 percent of the women we see have co-existing mental health problems, like mood disorders,” Schindler said. “We know people who suffer from psychiatric issues alone have higher rates of substance use.”

Schindler believes many of the people she’ll see in Working Together for Women were the generation after those she first started Caring Together to help.

“This problem is not going away,” she said. “It’s an intergenerational problem.”

That being said, Schindler is just as enthusiastic about helping the Philadelphia community as she was more than two decades ago.

“There have been ups and downs in terms of the program, but it’s always been exciting and very gratifying,” she said.