Kate & McKenna


For many adults, childhood memories are filled with family vacations, bedtime snuggles and holiday celebrations. For Kate Shaw*, her childhood memories are marked instead by violence, abuse and responsibilities completely inappropriate for any youngster.

The oldest of four siblings, Kate bore the brunt of her mother’s abuses — abuses that included drugs,  alcohol and her own children. One of Kate’s most vivid memories is of a time when her mother punished her by wrapping a belt around her neck and hanging her in the closet. She would have died there had her father not come home to hear her flailing and kicking.

Another time, when Kate was 12, her mother, downright drunk, drove home with Kate’s little sister in the back of the car. Kate found her mother passed out in the bathtub and covered in vomit. After searching for her little sister and tucking her safely in bed, Kate got her brothers to help her clean up her mom.

It was no wonder that Kate found herself attracted to alcohol. It was a way to forget and free herself from those memories for a time. But addictions often run in families, and Kate was no exception. After wracking up several OWIs, Kate was facing prison time when she discovered she was pregnant.

Prison time or not, Kate was determined not to repeat her mother’s ways. She stopped drinking and sought help. That’s when she found Family & Children’s Center’s child abuse and neglect prevention program Healthy Families and Family Systems Specialist Jen McConahay.

“I was buckling under the pressure— being a single mom, not having a job, facing justice sanctions and seeking treatment,” says Kate.

For the past three years Jen has worked with Kate to connect her with community resources, including self-sufficiency and job training programs along with affordable housing. She’s also provided a lot of less-tangible assistance, notes Kate, such as emotional support and healthy parenting guidance.

“I can always count on her to tell me the truth and be honest with me about the wisdom of my decisions,” says Kate. “Without Jen, [my daughter] McKenna would probably be in foster care, and I would probably be in prison because that’s where I was headed.

“Family & Children’s Center helped me realize what an actual healthy family is so I can give that to McKenna. I don’t want this community to view me as a mug shot. I want people to view me instead as a great mom. And that’s the image that Healthy Families is helping me create for McKenna.”

Kate and McKenna are headed toward better tomorrows for good. “McKenna gets to see the happiest, healthiest mom that I can be. I am completely present. Her life is not centered around Mommy and Mommy’s problems. Her childhood memories will be happy ones.”

 *Name changed to protect privacy.
**As seen in Family & Children’s Center’s 2013 Annual Report – 2014 Better Tomorrows Magazine