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Bill seeks to expand help for moms struggling with addiction

ST. PAUL — Katie Seaver knows what it’s like to be given another chance.

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ST. PAUL — Katie Seaver knows what it's like to be given another chance.

In 2012, she got her third drunken driving conviction and spent a month in jail. Then she got pregnant. The Rochester mom-to-be enrolled in the Olmsted County's CRAFT program to get help staying sober while she was expecting.

The program was critical in her recovery, enabling her to give birth to a healthy baby and stay sober for two years. On Tuesday, Seaver traveled to the Minnesota Capitol to share her personal story in the hopes of getting a bill passed that would expand Olmsted County's program to other parts of the state.

"The most important thing I learned while in the program was that I'm not alone and that I don't have to be, and that I can do and be the person and mother I need and want to be," an emotional Seaver told a crowd gathered as part of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Day (FASD) at the Capitol.

In Minnesota, an estimated 5,367 babies are born each year with prenatal alcohol exposure. That can lead to permanent brain damage and growth problems. A bill sponsored by Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano, seeks $4 million in grant funding over the next two-year budget cycle to replicate Olmsted County's program in other parts of the state. The bill would require that some of those dollars go to support Olmsted County's CRAFT program and another program in St. Louis County. A similar measure is being sponsored in the Senate.

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CRAFT stands for Community of Recovery Aiding Families in Transition. It helps support mothers in Olmsted County struggling with alcohol and drug addiction by offering support groups, holding sober social events and scheduling one-on-one visits. In 2014, 48 women and 77 children participated in the program. During that time, not a single woman tested positive for drug or alcohol use.

Among those testifying Tuesday in support of the bill was former First Lady Susan Carlson. She founded the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome after working in the Hennepin County court system and witnessing the effects exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can have on a child.

"It was there that I saw the reality of the devastation of substance abuse in our systems, and I learned how this substance abuse affects so many children before they're even born," she said.

The Center for Disease Control estimates the lifelong cost of supporting someone with FASD is $2.5 million.

Kenyon mom Eileen Henrickson told lawmakers the CRAFT program has been critical in helping her stay sober. She started the program in November 2013 when she was pregnant with her second daughter. She recently had a relapse and said if it had not been for the support of fellow moms and program staff, she probably would not have gotten the help she needed to stop drinking.

"I feel it would be devastating to lose this program because of how much it has helped me to be able to express myself and helped my confidence and the relationships I've gained with the other women," she said.

Members of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee agreed to consider including the bill in a larger health finance measure. Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling, a co-author of the bill, urged her fellow lawmakers to back the legislation.

'"These kinds of investments — if we make them in our youngest, very youngest — they come back to us many fold," Liebling said. "I think this is just one of the best things we can do."

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Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, is a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. A former special education teacher, Nelson said she backs funding these programs for one simple reason — they work.

"I worked with students with fetal alcohol syndrome, and I saw first hand the learning challenges they had, and to think it was preventable is just heartbreaking," she said. " Any child that is delivered alcohol and drug free is given a great gift."

Related Topics: CARLA NELSONTINA LIEBLING
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