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Published On: Thu, Nov 19th, 2015

Foster Care System Sees Influx Due To Rising Heroin Addiction

An alarming rate of heroin use has swept across the United States and the consequences are devastating. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin addiction has almost tripled among young adults, ages 18 to 25. It is important to note that rates of heroin use among all ages have risen as well. These addicts come from all income levels and walks of life. As the use increases, so do the terrifying results. These heroin addicts are losing their families, friends and lives because of this horrible drug. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that many of these addicts are parents and the children are paying the price for their parent’s addictions.

States, such as Kentucky and Vermont, are experiencing the devastating consequences of this epidemic. In fact, child advocates in Kentucky are worried about the rising number of children rushing into the state’s foster care system. One judge explained to Youth Today that in her 11 years as judge, she has never heard as much about heroin as she has recently.

“The number of parents who are using heroin has skyrocketed,” said Judge Paula Sherlock, chief judge of the Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, Kentucky.

Statistics show the highest rate of children in foster care these states have seen. Authorities in Vermont are also seeing unprecedented numbers. According to the 2014 Child Protection Report in Vermont, cases of child abuse and neglect will almost double by the end of 2015. In the annual report, child welfare authorities explain that heroin is the driving factor behind these rising numbers.

“This is primarily being driven by parental heroin use, which is causing children to be at risk in their own home,” wrote Cindy Walcott, Vermont’s deputy commissioner for family services.

The unfortunate reality is that families are being torn apart because one or both of the parents are involved in serious drug abuse. As the heroin use begins to take over, parents stop cleaning the house, buying food and sending kids to school. They may even disappear for long periods of the time, completely ignoring their parental duties.

In the past, alcohol and prescription painkillers were the main players in cases of substance abuse. Walcott says that as the organization learns how to successful rehab these users, new problems have taken over and now they aren’t that easy to solve.

Public domain photo/Psychonaught

Public domain photo/Psychonaught

“We were pretty successful in getting those people into treatment,” Walcott explained. “But heroin addicts are less likely to go into treatment and be successful there.

Some heroin addicts have attempted to fight their addiction, but discovered some of the system’s rules work against them. For most drug users, there are other underlying problems that fuel their need to use, such as homelessness, prostitution and losing custody of their children.

“Part of it for me was being in a domestic violence relationship,” said Anne Bissell, one former heroin addict. “When my daughter was removed by child protective services, the court required me to stay away from her daughter’s father, who was battering me. But I couldn’t do it. People get back into dysfunctional relationships.”

Bissell’s tragic story shows that the system has yet to figure out how to approach rehabilitation options for the rising number of heroin users. This fact adds to the already bleak statistic that only ten percent of addicts actually seek treatment in the first place.

Family lawyers are calling for child welfare authorities in these troubled states to focus more on parenting during the recovery stage. This approach would allow child welfare agencies and drug treatment facilities to work together for the best interest of the children.

There is a ray of hope in Bissell’s story. Her family was able to raise money to send her to a long-term residential program, where she was able to get clean. She is now able to support herself and works a full-time job. Her son is now an adult, but her daughter, 12, was adopted by Bissell’s mother. Fortunately, she is building a relationship with the two children. However, her third child was adopted while she was still using. She has been unable to locate her baby daughter.

“I say a little prayer for her every day… she’s on my mind every day.”

Guest Author: Lolita Di

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