The statistics about opioid addictions have been prevalent and devastating. There are approximately 1.2 million individuals who are addicted to opioids in America (some research claims more) and approximately 64,000 deaths due to overdoses. What happens to the children of parents and caregivers who are addicted?
Carol Levine directs the Families and Health Care Project for United Hospital Fund, a non-profit based in New York. She wrote an article about the impact of addiction on children. Here is a brief quote from her article regarding these children.
“Parental overdoses have an immediate impact on children. There’s also a cumulative impact as these children become adults and are themselves at risk from the same influences that drove their parents to drugs, overdoses, and early deaths.”
Who are these children and adolescents?
- Newborns whose mothers are addicted to opioids. These babies may undergo withdrawal themselves and need special treatment.
- Children of all ages at risk for accidental ingestion or inhalation of toxic substances.
- Children living with an addicted parent, dealing with constant uncertainty and fear.
- Children who have taken over the role of family caregiver for younger siblings or for their addicted parents.
- Children who are removed from their homes and placed in foster or kinship care. Some of these children have unmet mental health care needs.
- Very young children exposed to toxic levels of stress that impair brain development.
The numbers of children in these categories number tens of thousands. We honestly do not have accurate statistics, but we do know that these children are entering our schools and communities with a traumatic past. That past will have impact to their friends and all those who are working with them as teachers, counselors, youth workers and others. There are also some extreme difficulties within their families that have significant impact to their emotional and relational health.
It is one more piece of evidence that there is significant need for trauma-informed care for our children and for our systems of care who work with these children. It is essential that we use trauma-informed principles and practices to address their needs when we encounter them in the normal environments where they live and go to school. We are extremely concerned that these children are understood and cared for in ways that are attuned to their needs, their propensity for drug use and a host of other issues that they face each and every day. The need is significant and our responses will impact the rest of their lives.