Heroin crisis takes toll on children

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High rates of heroin and opioid abuse are causing serious harm to the children of those using the drugs, social service agencies have said.

In some cases, parents who are addicted to heroin or opioids lose contact with their children’s schools or doctors and pay less attention to the children themselves, explained Shelley Husemann, director of Lutheran Children and Family Services of Central Illinois.

“(We see) a lot of neglect,” Husemann said. “We’re finding children that are malnourished, that have educational deficits, because the parent is so hyper-vigilant in regards to their drug-seeking behavior and their drug-use behavior that they’re not able to care for their children appropriately.”

An analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that “the nation’s drug-addiction epidemic is driving a dramatic increase in the number of children entering foster care,” while also noting that “national data doesn’t identify how many children are removed from their homes because of a parent’s substance abuse.”

When those children are removed, Husemann said they often need lasting help.,

“They’re dealing with the fact that they haven’t had a proper education, they haven’t had proper emotional support, they haven’t had proper medical treatment,” Husemann said. “On top of that, we’re seeing the trauma of just being removed from their family. So we try very diligently to place with family members so they have some type of normalcy in their lives.”

Despite the challenges, Husemann said she has encountered successful cases in which children have healed, parents have recovered from substance abuse and families have reunited.

“It can be overcome,” Husemann said. “It’s a long road, but it can be done with the right interventions.”

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