written by Patti Cruz

It is impossible to read the news, listen to the radio or be online without hearing a story about a family impacted by the opioid epidemic. At Haven, some of the women and men that we work with everyday through our foster care and adoption programs are currently struggling with addiction.  For foster care, we have supervised visits with parents struggling to find a treatment program that would accept them. In private adoption, we meet with mothers who are considering adoption due to their drug use. And then, some of the hardest conversations are with children- trying to explain to them why they needed to leave their homes for an unknown length of time while their parents worked on their recovery. Most recently a smart, loving woman who has been in contact with Haven for support after placing her child for adoption a few years ago died from a drug overdose. This loss hit our whole team hard and made us consider if we are doing enough, both as an agency and as a community of individuals tied together through our joint love of the men, women and children in our programs. We struggle with what to say about drug use and to find a way to honor this woman and the others that we see trying to recover. What we can say is that all of the individuals who are in different stages of recovery are worthy of our hope; they are worthy of talking about, praying for and listening to.

At Haven Foster Care, the majority of our placements are for children impacted by parental drug use. What this means for our foster care parents is that they spend hours looking up the impact of drug use on children, trying to understand what this means for the children in their homes and how it will impact how they provide support and what the children’s needs are physically and emotionally. The New York Times estimates that over 2 million Americans are dependent on opioids. As the opioid crisis continues in this country, one of the impacts on foster care is that more children are being removed from their homes and placed into foster care homes as their parents seek treatment and work towards recovery.

Parenting children who have been exposed to drugs and alcohol comes with challenges, as many of our foster care parents are finding out. They are quickly learning that with drug use often comes instability at home that can make a child unsure of when the next meal is coming, who is putting them to bed, or even where they are sleeping. It may be one of the hardest tasks to explain to a 3 year old child why it’s not safe for them to be at home, when, in spite of all of these factors, home is the most loving and safe place they can think of. The people who they see as loving them the most live there and now they are not with them. As parents and professionals in foster care we have two top responsibilities. Our first and most important responsibility is to keep every child SAFE and give them structure, routine, predictability and love while they are in our care. And our second responsibility is to support reunification with the child’s family. Parents whose children are currently in placement have the right to an opinion about what their children are doing, learning and yes, even what they are wearing, even if those children aren’t with them and yes, even if they used drugs or alcohol while the child was in their home/custody. They are first and foremost parents, even if their children are not in their custody, or in their home.

Supporting reunification is often an incredibly challenging task for foster parents and their extended families. The path to reunification is never a straight line, especially when reunification hinges on a parent’s sobriety. It can be a long road for someone to achieve and maintain sobriety and until that happens, the children who have been placed in foster care remain in the foster home. We want to help the children connect with the foster family in order to feel secure and to know routine and consistency. Research shows the importance of this for children so we strive to provide it whenever possible. The foster parents in our program have been trained for this. They have sat through hours of classes about child development, they have been to pediatrician’s appointments with these children, they have talked to their teachers, been their advocates and cried when nothing seemed to be working. On top of all of this responsibility, we ask our families to help support reunification through the way they talk about the child’s family, by transporting them to visits and even packing diapers and supplies so when the child goes to a visit with their parent or grandparent they have what they need. All of this, and at the same time, foster parents are often falling in love with the child who is in their care and might dread the heartbreaking possibility of that child leaving their home. We ask of our foster parents the ultimate thing to ask of any parent: “Can you do what is best for the child, even if it breaks your heart?”

So when our team reads stories of opioid addiction, they are personal to us. They are the parents we are working with, the children needing extra hugs and rocking, our birthmothers considering adoption and even our extended friends and family. So today, we want to remember all of those impacted by drug use in our community. But in a special way, today our thoughts are for the family of the woman who placed her daughter for adoption a few years ago and lost her life this month. We honor your decision to place your child for adoption. We wish it didn’t end this way for you. We wish you were here to see your little girl all grown up. We know that your love for her was what allowed you to choose adoption. She will never have to be taught how to love, because you showed her that before she was even born.

-Patti Cruz

*If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction call 1-844-255-7380 for help.