3 Orgs Helping the Child Victims of Opioid Addiction
Every day in the U.S. more than 130 people die after overdosing on opioids. In 2017, it was estimated that 1.7 million people were addicted to prescription opioids and 652,000 lived with heroin use disorder. It should come as no surprise then, with numbers so vast, that many users are parents. And research has shown that when a child lives in a household with one or more addicted parents, it can result in developmental delays as well as a decrease in mother-child attachment.
Children of addicted parents frequently end up “in the system,” entering foster care or living in group-living facilities across the country. In 2017 alone, 30 percent of child services investigations were due to reports of parental or caregiver drug use. Children of opioid-addicted parents are often subject to abuse and parental neglect, which can lead to emotional and developmental problems and is also an indicator of the likelihood of those children abusing and/or neglecting their own children later in life.
When parents enter the penal system or inpatient rehab programs, their children can become wards of the state if no other reliable caregivers are present, effectively removing children from their parent’s recovery process. By including children and family members in the parent or caregiver’s recovery program, patients are able to reintegrate their role as a caregiver while learning strategies to maintain sobriety and effective parenting skills. Family behavior therapy is a therapeutic model that focuses not only on substance-use problems but on the interpersonal conflicts and emotional problems that arise from substance abuse within a family.
A few landmark programs are bucking the system in an attempt to break the cycle of addiction and familial separation and are integrating addiction recovery and family healing into one program.
Maryville Academy Moms Recovery Program
The Maryville Academy Moms Recovery Program is a unique model for recovery allowing female parents and their young children to live together while the parent is in recovery. Maryville was established in 1893 as St. Mary’s Training School, to provide hope for homeless children living on the streets of Chicago. Since it’s inception, Maryville Academy has provided safe-haven for children who, for whatever reason, cannot live at home. With several campuses throughout Illinois, Maryville has helped thousands and thousands of children live with hope.
In the mid-2000s, in a joint venture with DCFS, Maryville opened the Mom’s Recovery Home, a wholly unique model for recovery that allowed children to live with their mothers in one of the Maryville campus buildings. Located in the West Town area of Chicago, the campus houses numerous mother-child groups and provides living quarters, meals, job training services, addiction treatment, and counseling services. Mothers must have a period of sobriety before entering the program and must not be actively using drugs or detoxing from drugs.
Children from birth to age 10 live with their mothers, sharing a room if there’s only one child or sharing adjoining rooms if there are multiple kids. Mothers work with an on-site vocational coordinator to obtain a food-handling certificate and begin to learn job skills. Maryville also has a parenting coach on staff to help mothers learn vital parenting skills to help give them the confidence they need to effectively parent their children. According to Nina Aliprandi, Director of Program Services for the Maryville Moms Recovery Home, “We believe children are better off being with their parents. No matter how good, bad, or ugly that home is, they just want to be with their family and in their community.” And Maryville Mom’s Recovery Home is able to ensure that happens.
Hazelden Betty Ford Children’s Program
While the Betty Ford Clinic may be better known for treating celebrity addiction, their children’s program offers top-notch care and services to children whose lives have been impacted by family addiction. According to their website, the program, which was created by First Lady Betty Ford, provides children of addiction a safe space to learn how to be children. “Through activities, stories, and sharing led by trained counseling staff, children learn to identify and express their feelings, develop coping and self-care skills, deepen communication with their parent or adult caregiver, and recognize they are not alone in navigating the challenges of growing up with an addicted family member.”
According to National Program Director Jerry Moe, “The key is building a relationship—remembering that as these kids have gone through trauma they've learned not to trust adults fully.” To help build that trust, kids spend 25 hours over the first four days of the program with trained counselors engaged in group activities with other children. “All day long we're doing learning activities, getting kids up and moving and having them be active learners not just not sitting in their chair all day. And then, aside from the learning activities just having fun. We want little kids to be kids. You might be surprised at how many kids don't know how to be kids because they’ve grown up in their families and they're taking care of younger brothers and sisters.”
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Group activities consist of art, role play, recreational activities, and other play activities. Caregivers can join the children for portions of the program during which they learn how to communicate with their children, children share their feelings and concerns and work with counselors to heal the rifts in their relationships. Scholarships are available and no child is ever turned away, regardless of financial restrictions.
A Home Within
Providing psychological care for current and former foster children, A Home Within’s mission of “enhancing the emotional well-being of the foster-care community” speaks to the bigger picture of ensuring mental health support to children in need. Though not directly related to addiction, A Home Within caters to children in the foster care system, many of whom are in care as a result of parental addiction.
With chapters located in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusets, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, A Home Within is the only national organization whose mission is to provide for the mental and emotional wellbeing of children in the foster care system. With a national network of physicians, A Home Within provides free, weekly counseling to foster kids in need, for as long as necessary—many patients see A Home Within therapists for more than three years.
Children of addicted parents face obstacles that aren’t present in other family situations and the repercussions can be long-lasting. These organizations are taking the initiative to break the cycle of addiction and abuse to help children in need, so they can grow up in healthy homes.