One of the hardest jobs a person can have is to raise a child. Being a parent is a task that involves a mix of emotions, gut feelings, constant worry, and a whole lot of love sprinkled on top. A parent wants nothing more than to protect their children and instill them with the skills and knowledge they need to live a happy life. This already seemingly impossible task of parenting is made even more difficult when one of your children is diagnosed with mental health or emotional difficulty. This was the situation Ruth Fox, CEO of Allegheny Family Network, found herself in when she was raising a family of her own.
Before Fox was the CEO of a multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization she was a single mother struggling to stay afloat. At the age of 16, she had her first child. Teenage pregnancy has the potential to hold back a mother for the rest of her life, but Fox did not let this happen. She worked to earn the title of Licensed Practical Nurse and met a man who would soon become her husband. The couple got married and had three children despite the fact that their relationship was biracial and caused double-takes when out in public. Fox had never been the kind of woman who cared what others thought, and she continued to work on giving her children a happy childhood.
Sadly, in 1997 Fox’s husband passed away when his youngest daughter was at the impressionable age of 8 years old. This child, Autumn, spiraled into a deep depression after her father’s death. Autumn was unable to leave the house and was eventually diagnosed with Agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving one’s home. When recounting these times Ruth said; “most families and parents I work with tell me about how their children lash out at them and misbehave, but with Autumn it was just utter sadness. She cried from the minute she woke up until the minute she went to bed, and most days so did I.”
To create an Emotional Safety Plan for you, or to help your child create one for themselves, check out our Emotional Safety Plan Tip Sheet here.
Money is generally of concern for most young families especially, single-parent households. However, Ruth has a strong drive to help people and she found herself naturally drawn to people with mental health challenges. She shifted her career path from being a nurse to working with her church as an advocate for the homeless population in her area. This was a massive pay cut but, to Ruth, what she gained was worth every penny lost. She was with her church for ten years and while she loved her time there she found it isolating at the same time. The church that she worked in looked at mental illness as an “evil force that could be prayed away.” According to Ruth; “I prayed. Every single night I prayed, and it didn’t get better. We needed something different than divine intervention.”
Autumn stayed in the house from the time she was 8 years old until she turned 21. Ruth, to this day, is saddened by the fact that her daughter “missed out” on her teenage years but is so proud of the woman she has become. With truancy fines growing at a rapid pace she knew she had to act. Ruth took her to a treatment facility where Autumn stayed for a long period of time. Autumn was a very sensitive child and it took several tries for her to find a therapist she was able to fully trust, but once they did he was a lifesaver for both of them.
In the 21st year of her young life Autumn was able to overcome her agoraphobia. She followed in her mother’s footsteps and entered the mental health field herself. After a brief setback Autumn is currently raising two children of her own and is working in her community to help others, just like her mother. Fox is amazed by how strong her daughter has been and how far she has come, but she says, as a mother, she can still see the internal struggle Autumn goes through and keeps a close eye on her child regardless of how old she gets.
Even when things with Autumn finally started to stabilize, Fox couldn’t help but notice the lack of help she received. When Fox was in the thick of raising a child with a mental difficulty there was no such thing as Google. She was not able to look down at her phone and access pages and pages of resources and support. Fox was not sure of her rights when it came to things like truancy or insurance benefits, and she didn’t even know how to access this information. When asked what advice she would give a parent going through a similar situation she said, “utilize the resources available to you.” Fox doesn’t want parents to listen to the stigma that surrounds mental health. While it is better than it was when was raising Autumn, it is still there. Parents today have so many resources at their fingertips, and Fox’s best advice is to ask for help and use it.
Ruth Fox has been able to merge her love of social work and her own experience of raising Autumn to eventually land the job of CEO for Allegheny Family Network. This family-run program only hires employees with lived experience raising a child with a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental difficulty. Having parents support parents allows the level of understanding and care that only a peer could offer. Fox remains an inspiring figure in the world of mental health awareness, and while few things are more impressive than being a self-taught CEO, raising her children is her biggest accomplishment. Being a parent never ends and your worry for your children does not go away as your children grow. She is proud to work for an organization that can offer parents the kind of necessary support that she never received.