How Opioid Use Affects Haven Foster Care
Updated November 1, 2021.
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. It is estimated that three million Americans are or have been addicted to opioids. At Haven, some of the women and men we work with every day through our foster care and adoption programs are currently struggling with addiction. In order to do our job well, we must ensure that our foster parents are educated in addiction issues and how they impact children.
The overriding principle that guides our difficult work in parental drug use and foster care is that everyone is worthy of compassion. We care for parents, children, foster parents, and each other at Haven, and we are focused on making sure everyone under our service feels loved and heard. Whether a birth parent is struggling with addiction, a child is missing home, a foster family is trying to adjust, or our own colleagues are overwhelmed, we are praying and hoping for their better tomorrow.
Parental Drug Use and Foster Care or Adoption at Haven
When we take on clients who have had their children removed due to drug use, we maintain supervised visits while supporting them in finding an addiction treatment program.
Alternatively, we meet with expectant mothers who are considering adoption due to their drug use. Birth mother support is a hallmark of Haven Adoptions, and we provide many services to help women get the right help and services during and after the birth of their child.
Unfortunately, we also know the heartbreak of realizing that our help has its limits. We once learned that a smart, loving woman who remained in contact with Haven for support after placing her child for adoption has 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 all struggle with what to say about drug use, but our team felt we must find a way to honor this woman and the others who we see trying to recover.
One thing we know we can do to honor our dear friend is to spread awareness by sharing more about foster care as it relates to parental drug use and addiction.
Drug Use Impact on Children Entering Foster Care
Some of our hardest conversations are with children who must enter foster care as a result of their parents’ drug use. It will always be nearly impossible to try to explain to children why they need to leave their homes for an unknown length of time while their parents work on recovery.
Parenting children who have been exposed to drugs and alcohol comes with challenges, as many of our foster care parents quickly learn. The children often experienced major instability at home, such as being unsure of when the next meal is coming, not knowing who is putting them to bed, or even wondering 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 know. The people whom they see as loving them the most live there, and now they are not with them. Our foster parents practice diligently to make sure they can have those conversations in loving and age-appropriate ways.
Preparing for Foster Care in PA
At Haven Foster Care, most of our placements are for children impacted by parental drug use. What this means for our foster care parents is that in addition to preparing for their foster care home study, they also must learn about the impact of drug use on children. As they work to understand what this means for the individual children in their homes, they must also prepare to provide unique support for the children’s physical and emotional needs.
One of our priorities is to help children in foster care connect with their foster family in order to feel secure and cared for. The foster parents in our program train for this as part of their foster care home study checklist. They attend classes about child development, visit pediatrician appointments with their foster children, meet with the children’s teachers, advocate fiercely for their kids, and cry in frustration when nothing seems to be going well.
Professionals in foster care, and the foster parents we train, 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. Our second responsibility is to support reunification with the child’s family. The path to reunification is never a straight line, especially when it hinges on a parent’s sobriety. It can be a long road for someone to achieve and maintain sobriety, and the children must remain in the foster home until that happens.
Supporting reunification is often an incredibly challenging task for foster parents as they deal with the birth family’s dynamics. Parents whose children are currently in placement have the right to an opinion about what their children are doing, learning, and even what they are wearing. They have this right even if those children aren’t with them – and yes – even if they used drugs or alcohol while the child was in their home or custody. They are first and foremost parents, even if their children are not in their custody or in their home. Our foster parents must accept and respect this parental role in the foster family structure.
Our foster families support reunification through the way they talk about the child’s family, by transporting them to visits, and by packing diapers and supplies for visits. When the child visits with their parents or grandparents, all of their needs are taken care of and they can enjoy the visit. While this may seem like a simple task, it is one of the more difficult aspects of being a foster parent. Many foster parents are deeply compassionate and loving people who grow to love the children in their care. They might truly dread the heartbreaking possibility of that child leaving their home. We ask our foster parents the question that is the ultimate question for any parent: “Can you do what is best for the child, even if it breaks your heart?”
Families Can Survive Opioid Addiction for Successful Reunification
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 birth mothers 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, our thoughts are for the family of the woman who placed her daughter for adoption a few years ago and now has lost her life in her battle with addiction.
Though this loss is tragic, we will continue in our work to provide vital support and foster care for families struggling with addiction. Through our efforts, more families will be supported in adoption, foster care, addiction treatment, and reunification.
To the friend who lost her fight: 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.
*If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction call 1-844-255-7380 for help.