Opioids, Foster Care and A Thing Called Hope

Children in foster care don’t always end up being passed between the homes of strangers. Instead, they often find themselves living with relatives—who are now all they’ve got.

John and Margaret Hardin were in their 60s when disaster compelled them to raise their niece and nephew, Nikia and Shakoiya, then ages 4 and 7. Their mother had spiraled from divorce into meth addiction. She went from unemployed to homeless. Sometimes she slept under a bridge, other times in a freight container. “She basically went away and left her kids,” said John Hardin. “She was a good mom when she was sober, but meth wrecked her.”

Raising their niece and nephew was difficult. The Hardins had five restraining orders against their own daughter. They were tangled in bills and legal expenses.

But Hardin said the hardest part was meeting the children’s emotional needs. “You can’t make it right,” he said. “We loved them like our own, but we could never replace a mom and dad. ‘Why are drugs more important to my mom than I am?’  How do you explain that to an 8-year-old? So we said: ‘Until she gets better, you’re going to have to be with us for a while.’”

According to a 2017 Children’s Defense Fund report, the number of U.S. children living in households headed by relatives was 7.5 million. And some of the major causes are related—substance abuse, addiction and the opioid crisis.

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More than 70,000 Americans died by overdosing on drugs in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s more than the number of people who have died from car crashes, gun violence or H.I.V. at their peaks.

Seven in 10 employers in the U.S. said that their workplaces have been affected by drug use.

And all the while, children like Nikia and Shakoiya have had their lives and families torn apart. Something has to change.

What companies can do

The National Safety Council produced this plan to help employers strategically tackle the opioid crisis. The NSC encourages business owners and organization leaders to educate and train their employees, partner with medical providers, create better drug-testing policies and provide confidential access to treatment for people suffering from opioids.

Espyr, a national behavioral health company focused on public relations, produced this list of five steps businesses can take to address the opioid crisis. This is more than just a PR strategy. It’s a plan to save lives. Here’s a summary:

  1. Educate your employees about abuse of opioids.
  2. Align your programs and policies with the mission of combatting the opioid crisis.
  3. Partner with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and health plans to reduce the risk of overdose.
  4. Set up an early warning system using data analytics.

What individuals (that’s you!) can do

It will take the combined efforts of businesses, nonprofits, legislators, doctors, government agencies, social workers, faith-based groups and specialists to combat the opioid epidemic. But it will also take community members—each of us doing our part to help.

Be ready for emergencies.
Keep a copy of the Poison Control hotline number in your wallet in case a coworker or loved one overdoses: 1-800-222-1222.

Learn how to safely dispose of your medicine.
Many people obtain opioids from family or friends, so make sure yours don’t end up in the wrong hands where they might hurt someone.

Foster or adopt a child.
Nationwide, the number of children in foster care increases annually. Research shows that drug abuse has dramatically increased the number of children in care.

Become a licensed respite provider.
As I talked about in my last article, grandparents raising grandchildren often neglect their own needs and don’t reach out for help—even when they desperately need it. Respite providers support grandparents, relative caregivers and other foster parents in need by taking in their children for anywhere from one night to a few weeks so that foster parents can travel or take a much-needed break.

Support programs like Safe Families for Children.
You can volunteer to help struggling parents get back on their feet by providing emotional support, transportation, meals or other services. Help put families back together.

It will take all of us, organizations and individuals, to combat substance abuse and help families in crisis—families like the Hardins, families that need a little more of a thing called hope.

John Hardin said raising his niece and nephew was hard, and little support was available. “Did I want to raise kids in my sixties or so?” said Hardin. “That’s the last thing I was looking to do.” Even though raising the children was challenging, Hardin said it was a joy. “We did everything with them just like they were our own kids. We loved them. We still love them. And we would do it all over again.”

Featured photo: credit

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