Most people swear they would do anything to protect their children. Mothers promise to fight like tigers against anyone who means harm to their little ones. Fathers vow that nobody who hurts their children will live to tell about it. Yet increasing numbers of formerly protective parents are putting their own children into foster care because of opiate drug abuse.
Obviously, the parents are not personally dropping off their children at a foster care agency because they would rather abuse drugs than take care of their kids, but that’s often where they end up all the same. Nobody starts out taking pain pills because they think their aching back is more important than the wee ones who depend on them. But, when a person discovers that they just cannot get through the day without their prescription pain pills or when they make that horrible descent into heroin addiction because they can’t get their pills, that’s just what they’re doing.
According to Jon Kamp and Arian Campo-Flores writing for The Wall Street Journal, there are no hard and fast figures citing the percentage of children entering the foster care system because of opiate drug abuse or other addictions. However, in Vermont, where the governor took a now-famous stance against the opioid epidemic in his 2014 state-of-the-state address, one state survey indicates that opiate drugs affected 80 percent of the children age 3 and younger involved with Children’s Services.
In Indiana, the first six months of 2015 saw 2,600 children removed from their homes because of some kind of drug abuse. Those children represented a 71 percent increase from the same six-month period in 2013.
On the national level, referrals of youngsters of all ages into foster care have increased by 3.5 percent between 2013 and 2014, and it’s an easy guess, according to experts, that opiate drug abuse propels many of those children into those programs.
Children’s Service bureaus in most states look first for relatives who can care for children when their parents are abusing drugs. However, because substance use disorders—especially opiate drug abuse—grow along many branches of a family tree, it’s often difficult to find a blood relative who is not abusing one drug or another or is otherwise sufficiently stable to care for the children.
Can Your Counselor Report Your Opiate Drug Abuse?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in its Treatment Improvement Protocol addressing treatment issues for persons with child abuse and neglect issues, recognizes that many adults who abuse alcohol or drugs, including opiate drug abuse, came from families where addiction was present. Their parents had poor parenting skills, and as a result they have not developed good parenting skills. For that reason, most substance abuse treatment professionals would rather help their clients find resources to learn better parenting than report their clients for abusing or neglecting their children.
People who reach out for help with opiate drug abuse worry if their counselors can report them to their state’s Children’s Services bureau. It’s a good idea to talk frankly with your substance abuse treatment counselor about your fears. Remember that worrying about your accountability and your parenting skills is a good sign that you want to do the right thing for your children, but reporting laws vary from state to state.
In California, for example, there are definitions of severe neglect and of general neglect, but there is no definition of neglect arising from substance abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse treatment counselors are clearly identified as mandated reporters, meaning that they must report incidents of child abuse that come to their attention. However, the penal code states that substance abuse itself does not constitute child abuse.
Be aware that a treatment counselor cannot provide information to Children’s Services in any state without obtaining the client’s informed consent in keeping with federal laws protecting confidentiality about substance abuse treatment. However, the treatment counselor will urge the client to sign an authorization to release information that is worded in a way so that you understand what information will be conveyed. In many states, mandated reporting by the treatment counselor can go to the probation officer, and subsequent reporting would be at the behest of the probation officer.
Getting the Help You Need
If you are involved with opiate drug abuse and you haven’t made the decision to get help, consider the nightmares endured by children of drug abusers. Many of them confide in Children’s Services counselors that they often wake in the night, fearing that they would find their parents unconscious or dead. Many of them fear the friends or romantic partners chosen by their parents. In most cases their grades drop at school because drug abuse steals the parent’s focus from supervising homework or attending school events. The children grow up distrustful of adults in general and unable to accept supervision when they move into the workforce. And an unfortunate percentage of children figure out that if their parents use drugs, then it’s okay for them to try drugs. It’s undeniable that falling into the nightmare realm of opiate drug abuse, no matter how your addiction developed, has put your children at risk.
The most immediate threat to the children of people who struggle with alcohol or drug abuse is danger from lack of supervision. Experts report that substance abuse is associated with direct and indirect injuries sustained by children. Drug-related motor vehicle accidents and the lashing out of frustrated parents constitute direct abuse. Often, however, unsupervised children sustain injuries such as cuts, burns, broken bones and the like. These injuries could be easily prevented by a parent able to monitor their children effectively.
Sadly, the monies to help those children come and go. The children don’t have the loud voices that earn the favor of lobbyists, and their needs often go unserved. In 2006, the Georgia Alliance of Drug Endangered Children reported that 300,000 children lived with drug-addicted parents. In 2016, there is no money to fund the Georgia Alliance of Drug Endangered Children.
You can do your part by accessing the best kind of therapy for the addiction that has put your home at risk of intervention by children’s services. Or, if a loved one struggles with addiction, seek treatment options on their behalf, and on behalf of their children. Opiate drug abuse is best treated by Medication-assisted treatment, according to SAMHSA and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). Instead of needing pain pills or a fix of heroin at multiple times throughout the day, you will take one daily dose of a medication that lets you regain control of your body and put your life back together.
The most important part of treatment for opiate drug abuse—and the first step to preserving your family and keeping your children safe—is through education. Reach out and call your local medication-assisted treatment center for more information.