Author: Shernide Delva
The narrative of the orphan child has never been a positive one. We’ve all seen movies about it. Abandoned children struggle with mental illness, emotional distress and sadly, many fall into addiction. The nation’s drug-addiction epidemic is excelling the number of children enter foster care. Many states must take urgent steps to care for neglected children. Unfortunately, there are too many and the numbers only continue to rise.
The problem is addicts often neglect, abandon or mistreat their children. Several states such as New Hampshire and Vermont made laws to make it possible to pull children out of homes with addicted parents, or states increased budgets to hire more social workers to deal with the emerging crisis.
Other states like Alaska, Kansas and Ohio have issued emergency pleas for more people to foster neglected children, many of them infants, into their homes.
“We’re definitely in a crisis, and we don’t see an end in sight any time soon,” said Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, a coalition of public child safety agencies in the state.
Life as a Child in Foster Care
Sadly, these children grow up and have a high risk of having a drug addiction. According to a 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 35% of older youth in foster care have a substance use disorder.
While there is no universally accepted cause of drug addiction, one theory commonly accepted is a relief from physical, mental, and emotional pain. There are emotions foster youth feel on a regular basis. Foster youth are ripped from their families and put into state care due to neglect or abuse. Those two words—neglect, abuse—result in an array of emotional and physical realities. These realities must be addressed.
Lisa Marie Basile was a foster youth from age 14 to 19. She is a successful edited and writer in New York who wrote the poetry book Apocryphal. She discussed her thoughts in an interview in The Fix:
“The narrative of the foster youth has been hijacked by this idea that foster youth are just losers. Like it’s inherent, expected. The thing is, something has been done to them. I wish more people understood the loneliness,” she explained.
The Numbers Are Now Increasing
For a while, the number of children in foster care was decreasing. The enormous increase in parental drug abuse is driving the number of foster care youth up at an incredible pace. As of 2014, the number was at 3.5%. In San Diego, more and more babies are in need of foster care placement, and many infants are born addicted to drug. Not only are these babies born experiencing withdrawals, they also have a long-term risk for medical, developmental, emotional and behavioral hardship. Furthermore, they are an extremely high risk for addiction.
There are programs out there to help these children, but they have to reach out for it. The first step is admitting the addiction. This is the exact reason why many addicts are stuck. Lisa Basile says she made her way through foster care without using, however once she reached college, she began to overindulge in drinking.
“I drank a lot more than most college students. And that behavior—day drunk, wine for lunch—stayed with me for a while after college. It became less about partying and way more about numbing everything out so I could get through college without facing my tragedies.”
The Emotional Aftermath
The issue lies in the emotional toll the foster care process can have on these children. The National Institute of Mental Health states that that foster youth have a high risk conduct disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Youth with PTSD or conduct disorder are found to have the “the “highest risk for substance use and disorder.”
What is PTSD? PTSD is defined by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as “requir[ing] that children have experienced, witnessed, or learned of a traumatic event, defined as one that is terrifying, shocking, and potentially threatening to life, safety, or physical integrity of self or others.”
It is clear by this definition why foster children are likely PTSD sufferers and why they are more at risk for addiction rather than just drug experimentation. Foster children are often born in situations where their basis needs are ignored and where their emotional wounds remained unhealed.
There is Hope
With the right resources, children in these situations can be granted the opportunity to change their future. Everyone involved plays a role. From teachers, therapists, volunteers and neighbor, the right person providing the right connection can turn things around.
Foster children and addiction may go hand in hand, but that does not mean anyone’s situation is hopeless. There is not an excuse for changing your future. If you were brought up in an unfortunate situation, there is still time to shift the direction of your life. If you or anyone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call now.