Opioid addiction has been a serious and growing issue in Ohio for years now. The face of that epidemic is usually that of those who are addicted. Families mourn overdoses, and people struggle with substance misuse and move into sobriety. However, there is another side of the opioid addiction crisis, and this involves the children of those who are addicted or who overdose. As addiction rates rise, Ohio children are flooding into the foster care system.
How Are Foster Care and the Opioid Epidemic Connected?
Foster care and opioid misuse are unfortunately closely connected. Those who are struggling with substance misuse are not all single with no children. Many people with children also struggle, and those children face those challenges with their parents.
The Numbers in Ohio
While the changes in the number of children in foster care are not solely due to the opioid crisis, the rise of children in care parallels the growing severity of the opioid crisis. According to Scene, “more than 15,500 children are living in foster care. That’s a substantial increase from 12,600 or so in 2013.” By 2020, authorities estimate that there will be 20,000 children in care if this trend continues. When people overdose, their children are left behind in the hands of relatives, often grandparents who are not ready to raise more children. They also move into the foster care system.
There is also a cost to all of this, and it has become a larger and larger cost to the state. Currently, the cost of providing foster care is about 375 million, but many millions more will be needed within the next few years to cover the growing number of children in care and the need for child placement services as well.
There are so many children moving into foster care that agencies are having a hard time placing them all within current families. They are also recruiting new families to try and find a place for every child who has been affected by opioid addiction.
Neglect Also Comes with Opioid Addiction
For families who are struggling with addiction, opioid addiction not only comes with the danger of overdose. It also comes with the potential for child neglect. Parents who are unable to function due to their use of drugs are not always acting as capable parents at that moment. Children miss out on milestones with their family; according to the Dayton Daily News, in 2017, “a thousand more children (were) spending this holiday season in foster care than in 2016.” They might also take on the role of the adult in the family, cooking breakfast or skipping meals because parents are unable to work or cook. Sadly, some children are the ones who discover that their parent or parents have overdosed.
The Dayton Daily News states that half of the children taken into care in 2015 had a parent who used drugs and that opioid use, in particular, was a factor in the removal of 28 percent of children from their families in 2015. Unfortunately, those opioid addiction numbers and subsequent removal of children into foster care have only been increasing over time. According to Deputy Director Kristi Burre of Fairfield County’s children’s services, opioid addiction has made neglect cases “much more intense, much more complex and unsafe.” More children are suffering, but children are also suffering more intense neglect and abuse as well. Children need parents who can love and support them unconditionally and help them discover what they love. It is hard to do this when you are parenting and struggling with substance misuse at the same time.
Opioid Addiction Can Lead to Lasting Impacts on Children
Those children who return and are reunited with their families can have lasting trauma due to their parents’ opioid addiction. This can lead to mental health challenges for the children, many of whom are in denial that their parent is struggling, suffer from anxiety or depression, seek control through self-harm or eating disorders or create unhealthy, codependent relationships. Children grow up thinking that their feelings and needs are not important, and they are afraid to have vulnerable, authentic adult relationships.
Children can also be exposed to drugs prenatally, leading to temporary and potentially lifelong health impacts. Children are born addicted to the drugs that their mother was taking since those drugs cross through the placenta. For instance, Christie and Brian Looney are foster parents, and in the Dayton Daily News, they described the pain that a newborn baby they fostered went through in their care; he was “inconsolable, spit up often and suffered from tremors.” Children exposed to opioids prenatally can also be born early, leading to potential lifelong health challenges. The use of heroin is also connected to birth defects such as heart problems.
Preventing the Challenges of Addiction
How can you prevent this damage to yourself and your family, particularly your children? If you are the one who is struggling with substance misuse, then connecting with treatment can help place you on a path to sobriety. Treatment can include:
- Medical assistance to help you get off drugs and alcohol in a safe, healthy way
- Intensive inpatient or outpatient therapies and programs to help you find direction and develop strategies to manage your addiction.
- Part-time programs that allow you to work or to live at home while in treatment.
- Treatment for a dual diagnosis if you are also suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges
- Aftercare programs to give you ongoing support
At The Recovery Village Columbus, we are here to help you in your recovery. Contact us today to see how we can help you and your family move forward into a lifetime of sobriety.