With her mother's approval, Renee started smoking cigarettes and then marijuana when she was about 12. The only restriction was that Renee had to stay inside the house, out of view of the neighbors. At 17, Renee started drinking heavily. The cocaine habit came later.
David, who is less than 2 months old and Renee's only child, is undergoing withdrawal symptoms similar to those of his 27-year-old alcoholic mother.
Summer Bureette, 29, said she drank for 24 continuous hours the day before her second child, Arcaido, now 4 months old, was born.
Bureette drank nonstop for two weeks after Arcaido was placed in a foster home on the recommendation of her probation officer because she could not provide a stable home for the infant. At the time, Bureette was on probation for drunk driving.
Talk About Living
On a recent morning, as a gentle wind blew through the fruit trees surrounding a two-acre estate known as Foley House, the two women held their sons and talked about rebuilding their lives. They also talked about learning how to be good parents.
Renee, who asked that her last name not be used, and Bureette said they are convinced that Foley House--which opened near Whittier last December to treat alcoholic women and their children--is the missing link that will make their lives whole again.
"I've been drunk almost all of my life. Now, I'm learning to be a mother," said Bureette, who has an 8-year-old daughter who lives with Bureette's mother.
"I want to be a good mother. They are teaching me how. The nurse comes in and tells me how to care for David. Everyone is really helpful," said Renee, who has been at Foley House for 30 days.
Foley House is unique in Los Angeles County, its founders and alcoholism experts say, because it is the only alcoholic recovery home for women that allows children to live with their mothers while the women are undergoing treatment.
"Foley is our first attempt to take in women with their children. We are trying to open another one in the South Bay area but haven't been able to find a place," said Al Wright, director of Los Angeles County Office of Alcohol Programs.
The county gave the Southeast Council on Alcoholism & Drug Problems Inc.--a nonprofit organization headquartered in Downey, which has seven other alcoholism and drug programs in the Southeast area--a $237,000 federal grant to help open the 20-bed Foley House.
The grant to Foley is an example of a recent effort by the federal government to help women deal with chemical dependency problems, said John Valencia, communications director of the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. Women alcoholics, he said, have long been a neglected group even though statistics show their numbers have risen steadily over the years.
Of the 67,701 people admitted statewide to public facilities for treatment of alcoholism during 1979 and 1980, just under 13% were women, but in 1984-85 the figure jumped to 19.6%, Valencia said.
The Southeast Council is buying the Foley House property, which has a large three-bedroom home and five smaller ones, for an estimated $600,000, said Jackie Foley, director of residential programs.
Foley House was named after her.
There is a staff of 12, many of whom are former alcoholics or persons who have lived in alcoholic families.
Today, there are 18 women and 11 children in residence. The average age of the women is 24. The children range from infancy to 10 years old. The oldest woman is 52. The youngest child admitted was 4 days old.
Women who are accepted at Foley must agree to stay at least 30 days, but they can stay as long as six months.
The majority of the women are receiving some form of public assistance, such as welfare or aid to families with dependent children. They are asked to pay what they can afford but the bulk of the money to run the house is provided through fund raising and donations, said Lynne Appel, executive director of the Southeast Council.
"A woman with an alcohol problem has very limited choices on where she can go for help. If she has children her choices are really limited," said Susan Lathers, 45, director of Foley House and a recovered alcoholic. "She has to find relatives to keep the children, or the kids have to be put in foster homes, and once they are there it is really difficult to get them out,"
"Our program is directed at the woman who couldn't get help from anywhere else," Lathers said. "She doesn't have insurance. She usually isn't working. She has burned out all of her relatives and friends who have taken care of her children in the past."
The program is not limited to women with children.
"We don't turn anyone away. The housewife with children, the single parent, the woman without children, we take them," Lathers said.
Another unique feature of the program, said Foley, 49, who has worked with the Southeast Council for more than 10 years, is that the women are taken into Foley while they are still intoxicated.