The Hidden Victims of the Opioid Crisis

Far too many young kids are losing their parents — either temporarily or for good

by Jennifer Fallon | Updated 31 Jan 2017 at 7:24 AM

“Twenty-one years ago, our first child died of a medical condition,” said Dr. John DeGarmo, a leading expert in child welfare and the director of The Foster Care Institute in Monticello, Georgia. “Ever since then, I realized how much the gift of life was — and I wanted to help other children who were suffering.”

DeGarmo and his wife have taken in more than 50 foster children over the last 15 years.

But with the recent widespread opioid crisis, they have witnessed an alarming uptick in the number of children in the system. He and his wife have hosted up to 11 children in their home at a time. "Most states have a limit of six kids at a time, but because there is such a shortage of foster parents in my area, we continue to sign waiver after waiver, and there's no place for the children to go," DeGarmo told LifeZette.

When the call comes in the middle of the night and there's a child in need, it's impossible for this couple to turn the child away: "We just built a seventh bedroom in our house."

As more parents become addicted to opioids, the number of children in foster care escalates. There were barely more than 7,000 children in Georgia's system in 2013; now there are almost 14,000 — close to a 100-percent increase. The states of Pennsylvania, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Ohio, and West Virginia (which has the highest overdose rate in the country) are among the hardest hit with this crisis. And they're running out of funding to help these children. There are too few case workers and child advocates for the increased workload.

To detox, parents must separate from their children. But according to Dr. Indra Cidambi, medical director at the Center for Network Therapy in Middlesex, New Jersey, the problem is that removing patients from their home environment could be the wrong approach.

"An addiction is the absence of coping skills," said Cidambi, "and inpatient treatment centers hand everything to their patients — they make their food, they clean, they make life as relaxed as possible. [Instead,] they have to be in a stressful environment and learn how cope with those stressors," she told LifeZette. Otherwise — being in a relaxed treatment center and returning to chaos is just going to send them back to getting high.

The average age of a child in foster care in 10 years old, but that may be fluctuating because of the increase in adult opioid dependence. DeGarmo said he and his wife have fostered newborn babies as young as 27 hours in his home. At one point, the couple was caring for seven infants in diapers. Tragically, these infants face learning disabilities for the rest of their lives because they were born addicted to prescription painkillers.

There aren't enough foster parents in each state to take care of the children who need a home, DeGarmo said.

Related: Foster System Flooded With Orphans of Addiction

If you're in a position to take care of a child — you might consider joining the foster parent program. Even if you can't open your home to foster children, you can still do a great deal to brighten their lives and lift the burdens of the people who are caring for them. You could become a sponsor for a foster child, buying the child gifts for the holidays or for birthdays. Too many children go through the year without ever receiving a single gift.

Related: The Mecca for Opioid Addicts

You could put together a drive for suitcases for these children, since many of them move from home to home with nothing but a trash bag to hold their belongings. Foster children need higher education aid, academic tutors, school supplies, money for field trips and summer camps, and materials such as bedding, clothing, and toiletries.

We may not all be able to take in additional children, but everyone is going to have to pitch in to help the opioid generation break the cycle of trauma.

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