Program pays addicts to use birth control


POSTED: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mona Rodarte watched state authorities take away her third baby a few months ago, and the trauma was enough to motivate her to consider Project Prevention's offer to pay her $300 to get sterilized or start using long-term birth control.

Each child has a different father; two are in jail and all three are drug dealers. The 28-year-old Rodarte, who lives on Maui, had just graduated from a rehabilitation program. She had been clean and sober for six months. Determined to do things differently, she was looking forward to the birth of her baby.

But the change in environment, lack of structure and a return to what she described as a “;dysfunctional”; home sparked a relapse into her habitual crystal methamphetamine and alcohol abuse — two weeks before her baby was due.

That is when she lost her privilege to be a mother. Rodarte's older sister is now raising the child, and brought Rodarte to Oahu to encourage her to obtain some form of long-term birth control.

“;How does it feel that I'm on my third baby and I don't have none of them, and I'm still doing the same thing?”; Rodarte said. “;It feels (frustrating).”;

Though she was initially offended when approached with the sterilization/birth control offer, she gradually accepted its practicality.

“;It was hard because I didn't want them to take my baby away. But if I'm not done running around, I cannot bring any more lives into the world. I need to stop having kids that I'm not going to take care of.”;

After talking with Barbara Harris, founder and director of the national nonprofit Project Prevention, and debating the issue for a time, Rodarte called a Maui clinic for Implanon, a long-term birth control device that is inserted under the skin and remains effective for years or until it is removed.

HARRIS AND THE FOUR children she adopted from the same drug-addicted mother travel the country together, sharing Project Prevention's message, which encourages — with the promise of cash for follow-through — drug addicts to get sterilized or use long-term birth control until they are ready to bear healthy children and care for them properly. The Harris children, now in their late teens and early 20s, have visited some dismal corners of the country and seen everything they do not want to be, said Harris.

Yesterday they began a three-day stint in Honolulu, sharing fliers with anyone who would listen, drifting from the Institute for Human Services to Aala Park to wherever they thought they might find new clients and save one more baby from a substance-exposed birth or life in a foster care system. Since Harris started Project Prevention in 1997, she has paid more than 3,000 clients in 39 states. Every time someone accepted information, she responded kindly, “;Thank you so much. We really appreciate your help.”;

But Harris admitted that “;every once in a while, it's intimidating.”; She wants people to understand that she is not accusing anybody of using drugs. And she is not passing judgment. “;I have drug addicts in my family. So these people might not be using, but they might know somebody who does.”;






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Media aside, the word-of-mouth buzz yields the most results in her program, which is supported entirely through private funding. When people on the street hear that real cash is involved, “;that gets their attention.”;

Accompanying Harris is her daughter Destiny, a sparkling 20-year-old adopted when she was 8 months old and living in foster care. Now attending community college in their hometown in North Carolina, Destiny remarked fondly on the summers the family has spent touring the country in their recreational vehicle for Project Prevention.

“;If you know what's out there and you have a chance to change it, then it feels really good,”; said Destiny. The first four of eight children from her birth mother were scattered into separate foster homes. Destiny has met them, and it inspires her to do the work.

“;We're saving a lot of children from lives that are,”; she pauses, “;not so fortunate. We see how life could be.”;

Destiny hopes one day to combine her love for art and children into a career as an elementary school art teacher. When asked about other talents, she demurred, then grinned when all three siblings answered for her: “;Singing.”;

When Destiny was young, officials in the foster care system told Harris that the birth mother's addiction to crack and heroin had rendered the child permanently “;slow.”; This irritated Harris, who noticed Destiny's intelligence. “;It makes me sad,”; she said of kids who do not get enough love and support to break free from labels.

But it was adopting 19-year-old Isiah at birth that truly sparked Harris' anger. The drug-addicted baby screamed for hours on end, vomited uncontrollably and could not be left alone for even a few minutes. She and her husband had to watch Isiah in shifts all night. She made up her mind that she would do whatever it took to prevent another life from starting this way.

After initial media reports appeared in Honolulu, Harris received an e-mail from a woman who has had six children taken away and wants a tubal ligation. Encouraged by the inquiry, Harris said it would be “;one less worry for her — and society, because everyone else is raising her kids.”;

After the Harris family leaves Honolulu, the next destination will be England. A BBC interview inspired a donor to step forward with $20,000 and an invitation to London. Harris taps donated funds for her own airline ticket, uses connections to obtain hotel discounts and requires that her children pay their own way (all have jobs outside of school) if they want to travel with her.

“;When I founded this organization, I never believed how big it would be,”; she said. “;Every day I feel like we're making a difference.”;