Drug syringe and cooked heroin. Junkie, hospital.

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The Children of the Opioid Epidemic

Debbie Monterrey
February 28, 2018 - 12:12 pm
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By Debbie Monterrey, [email protected]

Pain pills are causing pain. Massive pain. Addiction, criminality, heroin use and death. We know this. We hear it in the news every day. We've seen the images of mom and dad passed out in the front seat of a car, needle still in arm, while kids are strapped in their car seats in the back. I think it's safe to say we all know someone who's been affected.

But what about the kids?

In a recent discussion with Melanie Scheetz of the Adoptive and Foster Care Coalition, she told me one-third of the children in foster care right now in St. Louis are being taken as newborns directly from the hospital because they've been drug-exposed. Meaning, their mother is an addict and maybe the baby was born addicted as well.

But before you dismiss that by saying it's a "city problem," the presiding judge in Jefferson County says the problem is devastating his county, too. Judge Darrell Missey, who also oversees Jefferson County's family court and treatment court, says they have almost 800 children now in state custody, mostly due to drugs. 

The addiction and drug use of the parents "puts kids in a really tricky situation," says Judge Missey, "because, where do they go?" He says they try to place children with other family members, but when that's not possible, they look for foster homes. But there simply aren't enough of them to keep up with demand. That means that some children have the stress of being taken away from a drug-addict parent, leaving their neighborhood, their school, their friends and everything familiar to be shipped off far away. Missey says one child from Crystal City was sent all the way to the Iowa border, the only available place at the time.

Hear Judge Missey's interview on TIAM here. 

There are currently more than 13,000 children in foster care across Missouri. Finding foster homes isn't the only concern. The Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition is finding the number of kids in the foster care system rising sharply while money and resources from the state and federal governments are going down. It's a crisis situation. 

Scheetz says 20 years ago, in an effort to incentivize adoption, the federal government began to "reward" states that were increasing adoptions (moving children from foster care to forever families) year over year. Missouri has been a top ten state in finding families for children. However, the payments have stopped. The last payment was in 2016 when Missouri received $300,000 but was supposed to get $3-million.

"[The money is used for] training, crisis intervention, educational advocacy and programs like that, " says Scheetz. "Plus, our extreme recruitment program which finds homes for teenagers and large sibling groups. The programs that we've put in place to help find homes for kids and support families, many of them will have to just go away. Immediately."

She's asking people to contact Senator Blunt's office to urge him to push for a one-time appropriation to keep these type of programs going nationwide. 

This is an issue everyone can get behind. What could be more pro-life than helping insure that babies born into the world with a drug-addicted mother get a fair shot at a decent life? What could be more admirable than helping a scared child all alone in the world find a family to love and protect him?

There is always a need for foster parents or just people to help support the foster care system. Learn more here. 

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