Children of addicts yearn for home despite dangers

Photo by Hannah Kittle Foster mother Keitha Schilling, 41, of Beverly, pours milk for one of the children in her care. In the past, she has cared for children whose parents had heroin addictions.

MARIETTA — As heroin pushes its way into families across the county, more and more children are filling the foster care system, eager to go home to their parents no matter the home life.

“We have 51 open cases in our ongoing unit and that’s the unit that works with families over an extended period of time,” said Alice Stewart, assistant director of Washington County Children Services. “And 34 of them are open due to substance abuse issues.”

Stewart said if you drill down further, of the 34 open cases due to substance abuse, 22 of them are specifically related to heroin.

“Also, 51 cases does not equal 51 children; there are almost always multiple children on a case,” she explained. “Two weeks ago, we had 82 kids in foster care; 50 of those are in Washington County and 32 are outside of the county because we don’t have enough foster homes.”

Many times, the children coming out of these homes touched by heroin have different behaviors to which many foster parents have to adjust.

“It depends on the age of the child and what they’ve seen,” explained Stewart. “We have children in foster care who have severe mental health problems because they found the parent figure basically dead on the floor and had to call for help.”

Brooke Tucker, of Vincent, special needs education instructor at Ohio Valley University, said she and her husband have been fostering children for eight years and have witnessed a variety of behaviors.

“We found the older ones and the teens who came from homes where there was a lot of drug or alcohol abuse were much more inclined to use than children who were not, even though they were placed in a totally different environment,” said Tucker.

She said a lot of times stress, even good stress, would induce them into behavior they had learned in their biological home.

“Always, in times of stress, they reverted to the behaviors that they felt comfortable with and that they knew,” she said.

Tucker said they fostered around 25 children and adopted three — which is why they currently aren’t fostering any children right now — and said secrecy is a common trait of children coming from substance abuse families.

“There’s a lot of secrecy…these kids, whether they are trained or have learned it, because a lot of them do,” began Tucker. “They realize if they tell somebody they get in trouble because their parents get in trouble and they are taken away from their parents; they learn to keep a lot of things quiet.”

While foster parent Keitha Schilling, 41, of Beverly, hasn’t experienced personality differences because her experience with heroin-related cases involved infants, she said she did notice a difference in physical behaviors.

“There was increased yawning, sneezing, jerking limbs and sometimes difficulty in taking a bottle because they have trouble with sucking,” said Schilling. “They don’t like to be over-stimulated and sometimes you can’t have them around a lot of people, so we try to keep the rooms quiet and the lights dim.”

Schilling and her husband have been fostering babies for the past three and a half years and have seen firsthand the impact drugs have had on children.

“Almost daily we are seeing drug busts and there are almost always children involved,” she said. “We wanted to help children here in our area; there are so many children in foster care in Washington County and one of the biggest reasons we see is because of all the drugs.”

Stewart said the goal with children services is to get children back with their families.

“Despite what children have observed and seen with the drugs, they still want to be home with their mom and dad,” she said. “They want their mom and dad to stop using drugs, but they want to be home with them.”

She said the foster parents have to be certified, have a background check and two full weekends of pre-service classes.

“The foster parents who are specifically working with kids related to substance abuse sometimes take training specifically for those issues,” explained Stewart.

She added that every child and every situation is so different and sometimes happy endings aren’t always what they’d expect.

“We do have some positive stories, some happy endings where parents were able to get help and the children returned to them and other times we were able to place their children with their grandparents,” Stewart said. “Sometimes you have to change your definition of what a happy ending is.”

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