Substance Abuse — The Thief that Robs Parent from Child

What do we really want for our children? We want them to grow into kind, functioning adults who are joyful, find their purpose and ultimately contribute to society. Easy stuff right? Under the best of circumstances, that’s a pretty tall order.

sadchildParents will do whatever it takes to help their children reach these goals. It can be challenging. For starters, kids need safety and security and food and shelter. But also important are clothing, medical care, heat in cold climates, lessons in hygiene, boundary setting, emotional support, socializing. The list goes on and on. But love and consistency are at the center of developing a young child, born full of potential, into a healthy adult.

But what if, as a parent, you don’t have the all the tools you need? What if you realize the big job ahead of you? What if you get scared? Or you don’t have the best coping skills? What if drugs or alcohol gave you relief? Or, you thought it did.

Enter substance abuse into a family, and even a child’s most basic needs are at risk.

Though each child’s experience will vary, most children of parents who suffer from substance abuse face a myriad of issues that affect the child’s entire life:

A parent might not come home at night, leaving the children to fend for themselves;

Mom cannot keep promises and may not even remember a promise was made;

Dad may have trouble keeping a job and struggle with paying bills, providing food or medical care;

Mom cannot help with homework, prepare meals or provide lessons in personal hygiene.

Consider this child, a child of a parent who suffers from substance abuse and you can imagine him going to school hungry, perhaps unwashed, in unclean and poor fitting clothes with incomplete homework. He or she, most likely on top of all that they endure at home, will experience teasing and bullying at school. He or she, most likely, has no coping skills to deal with the day they’ve been given.

Add family fights, neglect and emotional or physical abuse, and that’s a recipe that can lead to a child or children being removed from their home and placed into foster care.

Foster care can isolate a child, preventing them from forming healthy relationships with their peers. We can hope their teacher offers kindness instead of a reprimand for incomplete homework. Hopefully, the cafeteria server sees a hungry child and gives an extra helping and offers a smile. But in spite of the kindness offered, the feeling of hopelessness is a natural response to being removed from their home, and even though it is through no fault of their own, the child feels responsible for tearing the family apart.

With all that suffering placed on their small shoulders, the child begins to lose focus at school, they act out, they cannot see a future for themselves. All too often, they feel lost, confused and voiceless.

Fortunately, for a child living in foster care, their hope, their voice comes in the form of a CASA volunteer. A CASA volunteer may be the only compassionate, consistent adult in that child’s precarious life. One single bond from a caring adult can give hope to a child who deserves joy and the opportunity to reach their potential. One single bond can save a child’s life.

CASA volunteers are trained in the complicated issues of families dealing with substance abuse. A CASA volunteer can help guide families to the resources and the support they need to help break the cycle of substance abuse, get their family back together and ensure another child, another family, is given the opportunity to thrive.

Learn more at AtlanticCapeCASA.org

 

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With Treatment and Support, a Young Mother Overcomes Her Struggle with Substance Abuse

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Every year across the nation, between 550,000 and 750,000 children are born after prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, and substance abuse by a parent is one of the top reasons for children’s removal from their home.

Danielle is one of these children.

When Danielle was born, she experienced withdrawal from the opiates her mother Erin took during pregnancy. After the symptoms persisted, the infant was hospitalized for a month to receive treatment. She was also experiencing hearing problems in one ear and a heart murmur.

While it is often difficult for parents struggling with substance abuse to overcome their addiction, 22-year-old Erin had emotional support from her mother, sister, and CASA volunteer, Lynda, and the desire to get better so that she could be a part of her daughter’s life.

Lynda was assigned to the case when Danielle was eight months old. At this time, Erin was enrolled in a Mommy and Me program with Danielle. While Lynda observed the baby to be healthy and happy, she knew that the young mother would need support to successfully get through her treatments and ultimately get her child back.

“My first time meeting Erin, she seemed very young and overwhelmed. She was learning a lot about being a mom from the other young moms in the program. But I saw a lot of good things happening,” Lynda explained. She said the mothers enrolled in the program would take their babies to the nursery in the morning before going to their treatments and counseling during the day.

“Erin understood that I was there as her daughter’s advocate and that meant supporting her recovery as well. She was very open to our relationship,” Lynda said. “She could see there was value in having someone who wasn’t from the child welfare office. Erin knew that I was there to make sure her daughter had everything she needed and that Erin was making improvements in caring for her daughter.” She also knew she could confide in Lynda and trust that she was there to help her family.

“My relationship was that of encourager,” Lynda said. “Erin seemed to be very mature in that she distanced herself from her prior relationship because she needed to work on herself. I thought that was a mature thing to do because that’s exactly what she was needing to do at that point.”Through the Mommy and Me program, Erin improved her ability to bond with Danielle and quickly became comfortable in her role as a new mother. They were doing so well that Lynda recommended to the court that Danielle continue to stay in Erin’s care as she completed rehabilitation.

After six months of Mommy and Me, Erin successfully completed the program and was relocated to a halfway house with her daughter. When Lynda visited, the director of the halfway house said of Erin, “I couldn’t be happier about her progress.”

Danielle had been doing well in her mother’s care. Lynda noted that 11-month-old Danielle was able to say, “mama” and “baba,” and that she seemed inquisitive.

“When I met her, I could see that she had that desire to be a good mom and to do what’s right for her child,” Lynda said of Erin’s successes in her rehabilitation programs. “Since that meant getting off drugs, she was willing to do that, and the change in her is clear.”

“When under the influence, you’re not functioning with your full capabilities,” Lynda said. Rehabilitation helped Erin think clearly and learn how to be a nurturing mother, something she struggled with when her daughter was first born.

Erin did so well at the halfway house that she and Danielle were released earlier than the typical six month stay. She then completed an intensive outpatient program. Along the way, she also successfully completed mandatory parenting classes.

Erin and Danielle, who is now 18 months old, are adorable together, Lynda said. “She is very conscious of Danielle’s safety; it’s a priority for her. She’s really gentle and sweet with her… She doesn’t have unrealistic expectations for a child that age. She’s really playful with her, speaks kindly to her, doesn’t seem frustrated. She seems very content with being a mom.”

Currently, Erin and Danielle reside with Erin’s mother. Erin’s goal is to go back to school and get a job. Lynda tells Erin to focus on her goals so she can continue earning credits, even if it is one or two classes at a time; if she works hard, she can accomplish anything.

“If anybody can do it, this young mom can. She’s very smart and has the support of her mom. That’s huge. You have to be careful who you’re hanging out with. Erin has been able to weed out the friends who are not a good influence. She had a lot going for her and continues to have a lot going for her.”

Erin is fortunate that she was able to get her life back on track, and having Lynda as her CASA volunteer was paramount. Lynda encouraged Erin to make life decisions that would benefit her and Danielle, and in her role as advocate, she brought to the court’s attention what was in the child’s best interest.

Lynda is one of over 200 CASA Volunteers in Atlantic and Cape May Counties fighting for the rights of children living in foster care. CASA is central to fulfilling society’s most fundamental obligation by making sure a qualified, compassionate adult will fight for and protect a child’s right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and respect and to learn and grow in the safe embrace of a loving family. Join the Movement by calling CASA today at (609) 601-7800.

CASA Volunteer and Child Bond Over Baseball

Brian was turning eight when he was removed from his home. His sister was born with opiates in her system, and the Division placed both children in foster care the day after she was born.

It was hard growing up with a dad and mom who suffered from drug addictions. Brian didn’t have what most people would call a “normal” childhood. He often times took care of himself, his father preferring his next high over any interactions with him.

When Brian met his CASA volunteer, Warren Iredell, he took a liking to him very quickly.

“I told him I will always be there for him,” Warren said when he first met Brian. “He’s a super little boy, a lot of fun, very polite, but he misses his mother tremendously.”

On their first meeting, Warren got to know him. What stood out is that Brian mentioned he liked baseball.

“Maybe I’ll bring a glove and we can have a catch,” Warren told him. And he stuck to his word.

When Warren showed up next week, Brian’s resource parent said, “Brian has been waiting for you to come; he’s so excited!”

“I brought a glove for him and me. I went to KMart and picked up one for his size,” Warren said. “After a while, I decided, well, that’s good but maybe I’ll pick up a wiffle ball and bat.”

Because Brian’s father did not play an active role in his life, Warren said Brian did not understand how to correctly throw a ball. So the two of them practiced during their visits, and Brian has learned a lot.

“He loves it; he’s doing real well,” Warren said. “We have a contest with each other. I try to strike him out and he tries to strike me out.”

Warren said it is extremely important for boys to have a male role model. He is the father of six children and has 11 grandchildren, and he said he realizes how important it is to have someone to look up to.

“You can see it with Brian; he now hugs me when I arrive and he hugs me when I leave,” Warren said. “You can see the effect you have on a young boy, just being there for him, and just playing.”

Warren  enjoyed spending time with the child so much that he decided to visit him once a week instead of once every two weeks. In addition to playing baseball together, Warren has also helped Brian with his math and reading homework.

“He was very happy I could help him. He read to me one time… I sat and listened and I helped him with some of the words he had difficulty with,” Warren said.

Sadly, something Brian struggles with is guilt. Brian’s counselor informed Warren that he feels at fault for being taken away from his mother because he witnessed her using drugs.

“I do talk to him and try and tell him that things can get better, but he has to be patient,” Warren said. He told him, “If you need something, I’m there.”

Currently, Brian’s aunt is very interested in caring for him and his sister, so they have been spending weekends there to get used to the new environment.

Warren says Brian likes it there, however, structure is not something the child is acclimated to.

“He had no structure in his life at all, staying up all night long, coming and going whenever he pleased,” Warren explained of Brian’s childhood with his parents. Now that Brian has been in the resource home, where there are rules, “He kind of complains because he has to go to bed at nine o’clock. His aunt also has rules and structure, so this is what he was lacking in his younger years.”

Because their aunt lives out of state, she made a commitment to the Division that she will bring the siblings back home every other weekend so they can spend time with their mother. Their father is currently in jail and has been sentenced to three more years.

Despite all of the adversity he experienced, Brian maintains a positive attitude toward school, and he hopes to join a little league team one day.

“I hope I am making a difference and helping in some small way,” Warren said, adding that he is happy the children now have a relative in their lives who can take care of them.

An Aunt’s Wise Words Inspired Trish to Become a Foster and Adoptive Parent

Trish always knew she wanted to adopt a child one day, but she was hesitant to become a foster parent at first. “I was terrified of falling in love with the child and then having them leave, especially if they left to a situation that wasn’t ideal,” she explained.

It is her aunt’s powerful words that led Trish to change her mind. Ten years ago, Trish’s 17-year-old cousin lost his life to cancer. After his death, his mother—Trish’s aunt—told her, “I had 17 years with my son. And I loved all that time that I had with him, and I would never sacrifice that to spare me the pain of losing him. You can’t not bring someone into your life for fear that you might lose them.”

Trish had not thought of it like that, and these words truly changed her outlook about becoming a foster parent. From there, she and her husband thought, “We have to go for it.”

Six years ago, Trish and her husband finally had this opportunity. The couple took in three sisters who were removed from their home due to suspicion of parental drug use and possible neglect. The sisters were 11, seven, and six years old when they were removed from their home, and they were placed with Trish and her husband shortly after.

The girls were struggling with many emotional problems. Their CASA volunteer, Clare McCarroll, observed that Erin, seven, seemed very angry and would frequently have meltdowns, while Maddie, six, appeared very nervous and clingy, often bursting into tears. Clare noted that a therapist helped Erin and Maddie ease their anxieties and better learn how to verbalize their needs. Lauren, the eldest sister, was also struggling emotionally and was upset about her mother not being there for her. She ultimately chose to live in a youth shelter, but Trish and her husband have always invited her into their home each week because they feel it is important for the girls to maintain a sibling relationship.

About year after taking in the sisters, Trish and her husband took in another foster child, Sally, who is the siblings’ niece. Sally, who was born premature, was six months old and weighed 10 pounds when she arrived at the couple’s home. Sally’s biological mother, age 20, was unemployed, habitually smoked marijuana, and had postpartum depression and untreated bi-polar disorder. She had truly neglected Sally; she routinely fed her diluted whole milk instead of baby formula, never treated Sally’s diaper rash, and had her sleep on a dirty mattress on the floor because her own belongings took over the baby’s crib. The biological father, also 20, struggled with substance abuse.

“When they brought Sally to me, I felt like she bonded with me immediately,” Trish said. She held a birthday party that night for one of her foster daughters and invited extended family. “Sally would watch me as I walked around house. She was so hungry, sucking down bottles. It was an immediate connection, I felt.”

CASA volunteer Robie McKinnon, who was assigned to Sally’s case, noted how much improvement Sally made with Trish and her husband. After just two months, Sally had already gained seven pounds, and her pediatrician said she was now at a healthy weight for her age group. She continued to reach appropriate developmental milestones during her time with them.

While there was a great connection between them, Trish said it was difficult at the same time. “I felt so connected and I was afraid that if she ever left… I didn’t want her to have that feeling that I didn’t care about her because I knew she wouldn’t understand why she left… She is just pure joy. I can’t imagine my life without her. She’s so precious.”

Sally came into Trish’s life at a time when she truly needed to be taken care of. However, it was more complex with Erin and Maddie because they were older and more aware when they came into her care. “They always thought they were going back [with their mother],” Trish said of their demeanor when they first came to live with her. “Their mom would make DYFS out to be wrong, and she put herself in the role of the victim, and the kids bought into that. This made it difficult for them to adapt.”

Three months after the sisters were brought into the couple’s home, CASA Clare observed great improvement. The family even went on a trip to Disney World together. Erin and Maddie expressed their desire to be adopted by Trish and her husband, and the couple was eager to adopt the sisters as well.

The day finally came when Erin and Maddie had to say goodbye to their mother, and a final meeting was scheduled. However, it was a very stressful day; their mother never showed up.

“[Their mother] kept saying she was late but on her way, but it went on to be three hours late,” Trish said. “Finally, I said, this is done. Their mom had no intention of saying goodbye to them. We had so much nervous tension bound up because the kids were afraid to see [their mother] and say goodbye. And they were wondering how she could not come say goodbye.”

Trish had an idea to ease the tension. When the goodbye meeting was called off, Trish resorted to music. She put on Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.”

“‘I said, ‘This is our song, girls.’ And we ran around house. I’ve never in my life had that much tension. I could have ran a marathon… And this morning, that song came on! Every time I hear it, I cry.”

When the girls finally accepted that their mother was not coming for them, Trish said it became a lot easier for them; they had a final answer. Trish commended their therapist, who she said was wonderful and helped them so much through the process.

Sally was adopted by Trish and her husband about a year after her aunts. CASA Robie said she was thrilled with the couple and was happy that they were planning to adopt Sally. She still sees Sally from time to time because the family keeps in touch. “She’s the brightest, most adorable little girl, and happy and a lot of fun. We have tea parties when we get together,” she said of Sally, who is now five.

“We’re a family, and families kind of morph and change and grow,” Trish said. “Especially these days; remarriages, divorce, step children. And I think that [adopting from foster care] doesn’t have to be an extraordinary situation. We’re just a normal family now.”