Though much has been written about the current opioid crisis, very little attention has been paid to its youngest victims. They are the very young children of adults who have become dysfunctional as parents as a result of opioid addiction.
The crisis of young children deprived of a loving home during the earliest years of their lives has created a crisis in foster care around the country, overwhelming social workers and child welfare agencies, which were often ignored and hardly ever properly funded to begin with. In a Dec. 29 op-ed article in the NY Times, Sherry Lachman, the founder and executive director of Foster America, paints a dark picture of the child victims caught up in the current crisis.
A Third of Homeless Adults Had Drug Abusing Parents
There are now about 440,000 children in foster care nationwide, mostly as a result of parental drug abuse, particularly the use of opioids. “Children who have been in foster care are five times more likely to abuse drugs,” Lachman writes. “As many as 70 percent of youths in the juvenile justice system have spent time in the child welfare system. One-third of homeless young adults were previously in foster care.” Many of these have been through several foster care homes. This is a situation that goes beyond the immediate drug crisis. Deprived of the stability and love of a normal home life during their most formative years of childhood, many of these children become part of the nation’s problems, such as mass incarceration and economic inequality, later on.
Zero to Three, the organization dedicated to promoting the welfare of young children and their families, now points out that more than 80 percent of the parents of infants and toddlers in foster care are struggling with substance addiction including opioids. Studies cited by the organization link the desperate economic situation faced by so many families as a major cause. “The inability to provide for your family is linked to increasingly desperate ways of coping with the bleak realities of your life.,” they write. “Parents are also drawn into addiction by the need to escape the multiple adverse childhood experiences… that dominate the memories of their past.”
While Lachman calls for more foster homes for young children, Zero to Three sees the answer as an increase in the willingness of our society “to see addiction as the medical disorder it is” and treat parents whose addiction stands between them and their babies and toddlers.