Naomi Torfin was just a newborn when she first lived in foster care. Born to a mother with drug and alcohol addiction, she would grow up in the child welfare system, moving in and out of seven foster homes.
Now executive director of S.C. Children Come First, Naomi is drawing from her own experience to create places in South Carolina where mothers recovering from substance abuse can stay with their children as they work together through challenges. The Family Care Centers provide a safe environment for children and comprehensive support for their mothers. The goal is to increase child well-being and reduce the trauma of being separated.
Naomi shares her own story, despite its painful memories. Each time her mother went into treatment, Naomi and her siblings went into foster care. When they returned home, the same problems unraveled their days.
Naomi found stability after moving in with her father when she turned 15. She graduated from college when she was 25 and joined the Peace Corp in Niger, West Africa. Back in the United States, she wanted to distance herself from foster care issues – to keep those years tucked far behind her. But she began working for Children Come First in 2009, recognizing that she could bring valuable insights to the table.
Family Care Centers are based in children’s homes that normally house youth in foster care. “These are amazing facilities with education centers, counseling centers and recreation areas,” Naomi says. “Our thought was: What if we use that space for a mom and her children to come together in treatment and learn how to be a family?”
A $300,000 grant from The Duke Endowment is providing working capital for start-up and renovation costs. The centers are open in two locations and the state has appropriated funding to help the program expand.
Now a mother herself, Naomi often wonders why her life took the turns it did. Her sister struggles with addiction. Her brother lived in a group home and on the streets, moving from juvenile detention to prison.
“For me, there will never be a rewind button,” Naomi says. “But I hope we can change the ending for other families.”