Children are the Silent Victims of the Opioid Crisis

By Randall J. Rider, MS, LSW, LMFT, President and CEO, Crossroad Child and Family Services

This article is reprinted with permission from the Spring 2018 issue of The Messenger, the newsletter of Crossroad. Though it specifically addresses the opioid situation in Indiana, it rings true across the United States.

Randall J. Rider

When my last child outgrew the mobile above his crib, I cut off Winnie-The-Pooh, Tigger, and the other animals to replace them with other figures. A mom. A dad. A son. A daughter. The family dog. It made a nice illustration for my office. When you tug on one, they all jiggle. When you cut one off, they all fall out of balance. What happens to one member of the family affects everyone else. Even the dog. However, more importantly, the children.

Opioids are like that too. They creep their way into a family and leave their scars on everyone. The whole family system is affected. Opioids spare no one. Some parents are addicted. Some addicted parents die. Other family members lie awake at night staring at the ceiling worrying about their addicted loved one. Others fear for their safety and wonder if they are going to be all right.

Others go without having their basic needs met because their parents are wrapped up in their addiction. Others lose their addicted parent’s attention, nurture, and emotional support. Others suffer trauma from abuse, neglect, are victimized by an addicted parent’s friends or have their innocence sold so their parent can make another buy. Some children die.

Children are silent victims of our opioid crisis. Center for Disease Control data for drug overdose deaths between 2010 and 2015 ranks Ohio as 4th in the nation and Indiana as 17th. Overdose deaths in Indiana rose 53 percent between 2015 and 2016.

The Indiana Department of Child Services reports that the number of children removed from their homes jumped 61 percent from 2012 to 2016. Indiana’s Annual Report of Child Fatalities released in August 2017 reported 77 child deaths from abuse or neglect between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015. That report recognized substance abuse by the parent or caretaker as an identified risk factor in 46 percent of neglect cases and 17 percent of abuse cases. The numbers are staggering.

All of this is happening while our child welfare safety net is insufficient to meet the mounting need. In December 2017, Indiana Department of Child Services

Director Mary Beth Bonaventura boldly resigned via a letter some news outlets labeled “scathing.” Among other things, her letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb cited insufficient funding and a lack of beds for the number of children coming into care. She noted that reductions by the prior administration resulted in a loss of care providers saying, “We lost nearly 1,000 beds just as the opioid crisis hit.” She concluded, “I choose to resign, rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency, and well-being of children who have nowhere else to turn.”

It has affected us at Crossroad, too. Programs underutilized a few years ago now have long waiting lists. We re-opened one living unit mothballed during the cuts referenced in Director Bonaventura’s letter. At local request, a new program is providing Emergency Mental Health Shelter Care to provide more beds to emotionally troubled youth needing abrupt removal from parents’ homes. Our Board and staff are busy planning how to acquire and provide more resources to do what we have done since 1883, respond to the ever-changing needs of vulnerable children. We are grateful to our dedicated staff and socially conscious donors who line up to help us do this work.

Together, we remain committed to Creating Positive Futures for Children, Whatever it Takes.

Read the article in the Spring 2018 Crossroad Messenger.

Learn more about CHHSM-member ministry Crossroad Child and Family Services.

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