Half of Clark County kids in foster care have parents on drugs

More than half of the neglect and abuse cases Clark County social workers encounter involve drug activity.

About 250 children are either in foster care or in a kinship program right now, Clark County Department of Jobs and Family Services Deputy Director Denise Estep said. For many of those children, drugs contributed to them being separated from their parents.

“Sometimes when those referrals come in we don’t always know that drugs are involved until later so that number is probably higher,” Estep said.

READ: After record Clark County drug deaths, big drop in fatal overdoses

Clark County has seen a decrease in drug overdose deaths so far in 2019, but the number of children in foster care or in a kinship program has increased, Estep said. That’s because along with heroin, uses of other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine have increased.

“Having a parent that is struggling with addiction is traumatic because often times the parents, based upon their addiction, have a hard time meeting their own needs let alone their child’s needs,” Estep said. “That means some of their needs don’t get met. Sometimes they’re neglected or parents don’t have the coping skills if they’re using. They might be under a significant amount of stress and they act out physically with kids.”

Brittany King is a mother of four and a recovering heroin addict who says while she never physically abused her kids, drugs contributed to their neglect and her eventually losing custody.

“It was horrible for my kids,” King said. “I remember when I first started using, my 5-year-old, I remember he got my phone and called my mom and was crying and told her that I didn’t have anything to eat, that he was hungry and he didn’t want to be with me.”

King, who’s been sober for three years, employed and working to regain custody of her kids, now wants to encourage parents going through addiction to get clean for their children.

“Get help before it’s too late,” she said. “You can’t turn back time and you can’t go back and change things.”

Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is national child abuse prevention month and Clark County DJFS is celebrating by putting pinwheels throughout the county to remind people to pay attention to possible incidents.

April 10 is national wear blue day, Estep said, where everyone is encouraged to wear blue to honor children who are victims of abuse and neglect.

EXTRA: Clark County agency to get $600K to fight opioid epidemic

In Clark County last year, 3,981 adults called to report suspicion or allegation of child abuse, Estep said, highlighting that violence against children is a big issue in Clark County.

In 2018, 1,727 were served by the Clark County DJFS, on average 144 children were with kinship caregivers and on average, 92 children were in foster care.

In 2018, 57 children left foster care — 11 of whom turned 18 years old and were emancipated from the system.

In the same year, 13 children were adopted, according to the department’s statistics.

Right now, about 150 children are in the kinship program and 85 are in foster care, many of whom have suffered because of drugs.

“We’ve had a large problem with the drug epidemic here, luckily, some of the drugs have declined in Clark County but we still have quite a bit of substance abuse,” Estep said.

There were 104 confirmed overdose deaths in Clark County in 2017, according to Clark County Coroner Susan Brown. There were 65 confirmed overdose deaths in 2018, Brown said, and there’s been eight confirmed in 2019.

While an addicted parent is not good to have in a home, Estep said when the office screens a case it doesn’t always lead to a child’s removal. Many times there is a parent or another family member who can ensure the child’s needs are met.

EXTRA: Clark County to educate patients about pain pill alternatives

“Obviously, if you’re in active addiction some of your thinking processes may not be as clear when they were when you weren’t using. It’s hard for them to trust us that we aren’t going to immediately take their children,” Estep said. “But we are going to immediately make sure that they are safe. And if they’re not the person who can give a safe stable environment then we’ll try to find a family member.”

“I was a horrible mother”

King started using heroin in 2008 and had two kids at the time. She would have two more while using.

“When I was pregnant with (one of my children) I used my entire pregnancy because I was so afraid to go get help,” King said. “I was afraid if I went they were going to automatically mark me down to take my kids and they weren’t going to give me a chance to turn things around so I tried to hide it from everybody, but they all knew.”

King said she has a hard time forgiving herself for her actions but wants to urge others not to go down that road.

“For me, every time I was going to get drugs when I was pregnant I would be so (dope) sick and I was on my to get something I would beat myself up. I was so sick and I had to have it and I would start feeling better. And as soon as I got better, 85 percent of the time I would start crying because I knew what I was doing was wrong but I just could not find the will power to stop.”

READ: Progress made against drug overdoses in Clark County but war not over

One child went through slight withdrawals but is healthy now, King said. She said she relapsed during her pregnancy with her youngest child and occassionally used drugs. Her youngest child is now healthy too.

But the pain of knowing the danger she put her children in haunts her, she said.

“They forgave me easy but it’s not easy to forgive myself for what I missed and what I put them through,” she said. “Being clean now, there are times when I ask how can people do that but I have to think back when I was addicted and it was horrible. I tried to pretend. I didn’t tell my drug dealers I was pregnant.”

She tried several times to get clean on her own — trying to beat her addiction so she could be a better parent — but instead, it usually backfired.

“Dope sick is like having the flu times 50. Cold sweats, hot sweats, puking, extreme body aches. You feel like you have restless leg syndrome but way worse. your skin is crawling. You don’t feel like getting up and doing anything,” she said. “One time my best friend and I wanted to get clean. For four days we laid on the floor. My kids were knocking on my apartment door because my mom was dropping them off because they were supposed to spend the night with me but I couldn’t get to the door.

“I laid on the floor and cried because I was so sick there was no way I was going to be able to even make them a bowl of cereal,” King said. “I couldn’t even take shower. I felt so bad I laid in my bathtub with the hot water with my clothes on. It’s an extremely horrible feeling.”

She said she also missed important events like her child’s first steps because she was in prison on theft and receiving stolen property charges she picked up because she was trying to get money for drugs. When she was around her kids she was usually high, she said, causing her to be late to football games and cheerleading competitions.

Going to prison gave her an opportunity to get off the drugs, King said, and she became focused on overcoming her addiction because she wanted to become a better mother.

If it wasn’t for her kids, King said, she would likely still be addicted or even dead.

“Even clean, it’s still really really hard. I lost 10 years of my life. I lost a lot of that time with my kids,” King said. “I won’t get high again. I’ve got too much to lose and I’ve come so far. Nothing is worth going back to the life of addiction.”

Facts and Figures

1,727: children served by the Clark County DJFS in 2018

150: Number of Clark County kids in a kinship program right now

85: Number of Clark County kids in foster care

Continuing coverage

The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and drug problems in Clark County including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options.

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