Community Service: Dr. Francine Feinberg, Meta House Inc.

Celebrating 25 years of service as executive director to Meta House Inc. Dr. Francine Feinberg is recognized for her advocacy of substance abuse treatment for women.

Founded in 1963, Meta House is a nonprofit organization that is a gender-responsive substance abuse treatment program, providing services through residential and outpatient treatment programs. Meta House is credited as the first women’s residential treatment facility in the country in addition to being the first in the nation to include children in the residential setting.

According to Meta House, 28,562 women in Milwaukee suffer from an addiction or dependency upon alcohol or other drugs. In 2008, Meta House served 151 families in its residential program and 227 families in its outpatient program.

Feinberg, who has spent a lifetime studying women’s issues, began working at Meta House in 1983.

“It is challenging to work with women that are so highly stigmatized,” she said.  “I was attracted to this line of work because of the stigma of women who abuse. I know that people don’t wake up and decide to be addicts.”

After assuming her role at Meta House, Feinberg immediately noticed that most women enrolled in the programs were moms who had others care for their children during their stay.

“Coming into the residential treatment was problematic to the mothers, it was a no-win situation to give up their children,” said Feinberg.

Feinberg decided to bring children into the program in 1988 and allow mothers to undergo treatment with their children present.

“We wanted to make (treatment) reflective to the roles women play in day-to-day life. We wanted to support the ability to parent,” she said.

Recognizing that most women enrolled were homeless and needed housing, Feinberg added the organization’s outpatient program in 1999, providing 28 apartment units for women in the program.

In 2006, Feinberg was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Maternal, Infant and Fetal Nutrition. Feinberg has also been invited by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to advise the administration about the future of substance abuse and mental health treatment for women and girls.

“I was a child of the 1960s and came out of an era that had a strong focus on feminism and civil rights. I wanted to change things I saw wrong in the world,” said Feinberg.

Meta House recently opened a new administrative center and outpatient clinic. As for the future, Feinberg noted that the next focus is to develop more programs for the children.

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