Twice Abandoned

The opioid crisis took their parents, now foster kids left behind are being failed again

Teachers and school administrators are on the front lines of this crisis, but often aren't given the tools to help

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Jodie Hicks, left, and her husband, Kevin O'Brien, right, with their granddaughter, Tessa. Tessa started living with her grandparents three years ago.

Jodie Hicks, left, and her husband, Kevin O’Brien, right, with their granddaughter, Tessa. Tessa started living with her grandparents three years ago.

This story about the opioid crisis and foster care was produced as part of a series, “Twice Abandoned: How schools and child-welfare systems fail kids in foster care,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. 

Lafayette, Ind. ― There were about three agonizing weeks between the moment Jodie Hicks called child protective services on her son and the moment her granddaughter, Tessa, was taken out of his care.

She didn’t want to make the call. What kind of mother calls the authorities on her son?

And worse, what if her call made Tessa’s situation more difficult? She knew her son would be furious when he found out about it. If authorities didn’t find anything wrong at his home and he cut off contact, Tessa would be left to languish.

But she had seen what went on in her drug using son’s house and felt she had no other options. Her granddaughter, 4, was living in a filthy place where drug users came and went. She spent most of her time alone. She wasn’t properly being cared for.

Hicks, who works for an organization providing services for homeless families, had always kept a watchful eye on Tessa, providing stability and support amid the child’s chaotic home life. Those weeks ― during which, Hicks said, her son quickly figured out she had made the call and inundated her with angry messages ― she had no sense of what Tessa could be facing.

“There’s this little being there, who has no control over her life and is being subjected to things she has no say over,” Hicks said of her granddaughter. “Anything can happen during that time.”

Tessa ― now 7 and in the first grade ― is part of a generation of children who are having unprecedented contact with child welfare system as the opioid crisis continues to ravage the lives of the adults around them. In Indiana, where Tessa lives, the situation is especially dire.

Indiana’s foster care intake has more than doubled since 2001, the sharpest increase in the nation. And while the nationwide rate of foster care entrances is not as high as it was at its peak in 2005, many states have seen drastic increases in recent years. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of kids in foster care around the country rose by 10 percent. More of these kids were being removed from their home due to parental drug use, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

Physicians and counselors struggle with how to treat opioid-addicted pregnant women and their children, who are born into withdrawal. But for the kids who are already here, it is their grandparents, foster parents, teachers and school administrators who are on the front lines of this crisis.

The statistics for foster youth are bleak: Just 58 percent of youth involved with the foster care system have graduated from high school by age 19, compared to 87 percent of the general population. And while new requirements in the 2015 federal law governing education, the Every Student Succeeds Act, are designed to help this population, a Hechinger Report/HuffPost survey has found that many states are not living up to the law’s promise.

Hicks wasn’t about to allow Tessa into the care of strangers. So when Tessa’s parents tested positive for drugs and authorities took Tessa from their home, she went to live with Hicks ― a process known as kinship care.

Hicks, 54, and her husband, Kevin O’Brien, Tessa’s 65-year-old step-grandfather, suddenly had a young child living under their roof.

Both had already raised children to adulthood. Now, instead of spending their nights with friends and going out to restaurants, they were shuttling their energetic granddaughter between dance lessons, voice lessons, therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and play dates.

The transition was somewhat jarring, isolating Hicks and O’Brien from their friends and their former lives ― until they realized how many grandparents and great-grandparents were in the exact same position.

“That’s the thing that shocked me more than anything,” said O’Brien, who is now retired after decades working at Eli Lilly and Company, the pharmaceutical company. “The number of people around town raising grandkids or helping raise their great-grandkids, it’s crazy. In some ways, you probably hope you’re the only one.”

Life, Interrupted

The day child protective services came to get Tessa from her parents’ house, authorities gave her around 10 minutes to get her stuff and say goodbye. It was chaos.

But three years later, her daily life is characterized by routine.

On a Monday evening in August, Tessa climbed up O’Brien’s legs as if he was a tree. She wore glasses with pink rims and a T-shirt that read, “Ain’t a woman alive that can take my grandma’s place,” referencing a Tupac Shakur song. The family ate at Tessa’s favorite pizza spot, and she munched slices of cheese pizza while singing out loud to “Believer” by Imagine Dragons.

She appeared a typical 7-year-old in every way, unless you listened closely.

Tessa has a speech and language disorder, making her difficult to understand at times. It’s an issue that was apparent early and should have been addressed when she was a toddler.

But Tessa’s parents never followed up in getting her speech therapy, even after much prodding from Hicks, Hicks said. Now, Tessa’s playing catch up. She spends two hours a week with a speech therapist, both in school and after.

She’s about a year behind academically, too. Tessa has dyslexia, dysgraphia and some sensory processing issues that make her sensitive to loud noises and crowds. She spends part of the school day in a resource room working on her reading skills.

Hicks doesn’t know how much of this could have been prevented.

Related: When foster kids are moved around, schooling becomes an afterthought

When Tessa was living with her parents, she spent many days alone, sometimes locked in her bedroom. She fetched her own food from the refrigerator, even as a toddler, Hicks said. She ate lots of sugar and junk food, and when she started living with Hicks and O’Brien, she was underweight.

She was almost like a “little feral animal,” Hicks said of when Tessa first came to live with them.

And then there’s all the trauma, which she still may not have processed.

On a day-to-day basis, Tessa is a happy, friendly girl who likes school and going to car shows with O’Brien ― whom she calls by his first name, Kevin.

But Hicks knows that her granddaughter ― a girl she said is impossible not to love, a girl who is always dancing and is so obsessed with the movie “Frozen” that she has memorized “Let It Go” in multiple languages ― has experienced unimaginable pain.

Tessa recently told her therapist that an adult touched her in bad ways as a toddler. Hicks doesn’t know who the perpetrator was ― it was not one of her parents ― but assumes it was one in a rotating cast of drug users passing through Tessa’s life.

Tessa, 7, of Lafayette, Indiana, reads a book in her bright pink bedroom.

Tessa, 7, of Lafayette, Indiana, reads a book in her bright pink bedroom.

Going to live with her grandparents, unfortunately, wasn’t a magic bullet for Tessa’s pain. Her parents had a difficult time maintaining their visitation schedule. Tessa’s mom and dad were required to arrive together, but sometimes one was late and the visit would be canceled. Each no-show was another heartbreak, until eventually, Tessa became resigned to the fact that she couldn’t count on her parents, O’Brien said.

“It caused a lot of emotional trauma,” O’Brien said. “When she would come home, she would be problematic and not do anything she’s supposed to do.”

After a while, Tessa stopped trusting her parents would show up. The visiting sessions became inconsistent.

Tessa now has a stable relationship with her father, Justin, though she hasn’t had contact with her mother in about a year. She sees her dad often, under the supervision of her grandmother. He loves his daughter dearly and treasures hearing her stories about school and adventures with friends.

Justin is now clean and no longer upset with his mother. Instead, he’s appreciative of the life she and her husband have given Tessa. She regularly goes out to dinner. Hicks and O’Brien have taken her on vacation to Florida. These are things Justin says he’d never be able to provide.

Justin no longer sees Tessa’s mother or his friends from that time. When he looks around, he sees many people in his situation ― or worse.

“There’s no such thing as a functioning heroin addict,” he said. “A lot of the people I know just couldn’t ― didn’t want to give it up for their kids. So they lost ’em.”

Hicks and O’Brien worked to make sure Tessa could attend a local public school that would fit her needs. Her grandparents are vigilant about her school work. They have permanent custody rights, so she no longer has to interact with caseworkers from child protective services.

She attends a local elementary school, where Matt Rhoda is the principal. In the small school, Tessa’s situation isn’t so unusual. Rhoda says he knows of at least six grandparents raising grandchildren in the school ― a number that seems to be climbing.

Still, “[Tessa] seems to be thriving,” he said.

Kevin O'Brien, left, works with Tessa, 7, on her school work.

Kevin O’Brien, left, works with Tessa, 7, on her school work.

She might be behind, but if she continues on this track, she could catch up.

Back To School Blues

Around the country, and in Indiana especially, there’s been an influx of students just like Tessa who are still in the foster care system. And in many ways, schools haven’t yet figured out how to educate them.

It is the job of people like Donna Walker to help schools figure it out.

Walker works as an educational liaison with Child Advocates, a group in Indianapolis that provides legal representation for children who have suffered abuse or neglect. Walker’s job is to help advocate for the educational needs of foster care kids who are struggling most in schools. Guardians who represent the children in court refer their most intense cases to the educational liaisons.

When the program started in 2011, Donna and another employee worked as educational liaisons on a consultant basis and split around 140 cases between them. By 2017, the program had five full-time employees, a part-time employee, and over 1,080 cases.

“We have overwhelmed systems serving overwhelmed families with traumatized children,” said Walker, who spent 35 years working as a teacher and administrator for public schools, and has seen schools become much more responsive to trauma over time.

On a given day, Walker typically visits between three and five schools in the area. She knows them all well. She has students who have moved about 20 times over the course of only a few years ― bouncing between foster parents and relatives ― but she tries her best to limit school changes.

The odds of education success can be long for these students: Less than 3 percent of kids who are involved with foster care earn a college degree by the age of 25.

Still, Walker said, “for a lot of them, school is the anchor. They’ve been in multiple foster homes. It’s their safe place.”

Related: Addiction counselors embed in schools dealing with the opioid crisis

On a Thursday afternoon in May, Walker met with a local teacher about an elementary school child who could barely make it through the school day.

Tessa gives a spontaneous hug to her grandmother, Jodie Hicks, right, and her step-grandfather, Kevin O'Brien.

Tessa gives a spontaneous hug to her grandmother, Jodie Hicks, right, and her step-grandfather, Kevin O’Brien.

This child didn’t live with his mom or dad, or even his grandma or grandpa. He lived with his great-grandpa. His parents and grandparents were either drug users, in and out of jail, or simply unable to care for him. And while living with his great-grandpa seems preferable to living with a foster family, the situation is far from ideal.

With little supervision, the child often stays up late at night watching television. His great-grandpa works long hours and is at work way before the school bus comes. On some days, there’s no one to make sure the child gets to school. He complains of constant stomachaches and tells his great-grandpa he fears child protective services will take him away and put him in a foster home.

When he does go to school, he has a hard time staying awake. In class, after he greets classmates and gets breakfast, he promptly lays his head on his desk and goes to sleep. His teacher can’t seem to make him stay awake.

Getting any child to sit down, focus and practice spelling and math equations can be difficult, even in the best of situations. But for a child who doesn’t have someone tucking him into bed at night or putting him on the bus in the morning and who is living in constant fear that he will be taken away from his guardian, it is near impossible.

The adults also suspect this child has serious medical issues. But if he does, will he receive the proper care?

Walker and his teacher brainstormed strategies to keep him engaged.

The problem is, he’s not even the neediest kid in the classroom, the teacher said.

Traumatized Students And Overworked Teachers

On a day-to-day basis, Walker meets with teachers and school leaders who are trying their best to reach traumatized students.

Sometimes their efforts fall short, no matter how hard they work. But sometimes they have tremendous success.

That May morning, Walker also met with a 15-year-old client of hers who had only just started to attend school. For years, he had been kept in his home, not allowed to leave, until child protective services found him.

Starting over at school years behind his grade level and in classes with younger children could have been a mountain of frustration for the teen. But he is thriving, soaking up new information at a surprising rate.

“We did the right thing here. Not one I question. Some I do. But this one not,” said Walker in a meeting with his teachers in May.

That’s why she doesn’t lose hope. She knows what’s possible with the right combination of support and school culture.

But some schools are still struggling to meet the needs of these kids – often allowing them to slip through the cracks as they bounce between schools and families.

One of the biggest barriers to these students’ success is their transience. Studies show that foster youth lose four to six months of learning every time they change schools. In the rush to make sure students find a suitable home placement, educational stability is sometimes put on the back burner.

The Every Student Succeeds Act is designed to tackle this. For the first time, the 2015 education law requires states to report graduation rates for foster youth. It also includes a provision designed to help students stay in the same school even if they move homes. This provision calls on states to work with schools and child welfare agencies to provide school transportation for these students even if they are no longer living nearby.

But a Hechinger/HuffPost survey of 44 state education agencies showed that states are struggling to meet the new standards.

The law sets a December deadline for states to comply with its provision on reporting graduation rates. But more than one-quarter of states surveyed reported that graduation rates for foster youth wouldn’t be available until next year at the earliest, and many other states had just begun to collect the data. In Indiana, the state education agency expects to publish that information for the first time by Dec. 31.

Only four states could identify the rate at which foster youth graduate from high school — and those results were grim. In Georgia, just 11 percent of foster youth completed high school within four years; in Colorado, 23.6 percent did, and in California, 51.1 percent did. Nebraska’s graduation rate for 2015-16, the most recent year available, was 51.4 percent.

And while the new law has prompted states to assign staff members to coordinate between child welfare and education agencies and take other steps to help foster youth in school, evidence of improvement is scant so far.

Only three states could report concrete evidence that they’d been able to keep youth from cycling through schools as they moved between foster homes, a big barrier to these students’ educational success and a focus of the law. The vast majority of states said they had no plans to track that information or didn’t have it available.

In Indiana ― where children are put in foster care at twice the national rate ― the issues facing foster care youth are particularly severe.

In December 2017, the longtime director of the state’s Department of Child Services resigned, writing in a scathing letter that without changes to the department, “I fear lives will be lost and families ruined.” The leader, Mary Beth Bonaventura, said she was responding to budget cuts, leadership changes and complacency over outmoded technology.

In response, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) ordered an independent review of the Department of Child Services that found the agency had a number of strengths ― including a high rate of kids placed in the care of relatives as opposed to outside families ― but also faced a number of challenges. A Department of Child Services report from September revealed that in 2016, 59 Indiana kids had died as a result of abuse or neglect, down from 77 the previous year.

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition For Child Protection Reform, disputes the idea that budget cuts are the cause of Indiana’s woes, noting that Indiana actually spends generously on child welfare. He thinks there are deeper reasons behind the high rate of family separations in Indiana.

There’s an underlying hostility toward drug-users in the state, Wexler said, even if the drug is comparatively benign, like marijuana. The system is quick to separate families whether or not there is evidence of child endangerment.

“The presumption is immediate: Substance abuse equals child abuse equals removal. None of those presumptions are correct. All of them may apply in some cases. None applies in most cases,” Wexler said.

Asked why Indiana might have such a high rate of children in foster care, a Department of Child Services spokeswoman suggested there wasn’t one specific cause.

“Since 2013, our child abuse and neglect hotline has seen a 30 percent increase in calls, which has resulted in a rise in assessments of children perceived as being in potentially dangerous situations,” the spokeswoman, Noelle Russell, wrote by email. “We do attribute the increase partly to more public awareness of Indiana’s status as a mandatory reporting state.”

She noted that $25 million had recently been allocated to the department from a state surplus and that changes were underway.

A New Normal

The number of cases that land on Walker’s desk keeps climbing. She and her colleagues have had many successes. But she knows she’s not reaching all the children who need help.

She thinks a lot about all the children she isn’t serving ― those that are inevitably falling through the cracks. Or the students she is serving who have grown weary and tired.

In this job, she has seen traditional family structures turned upside down. She thinks of two of her students ― siblings in fourth and sixth grade ― who are on their 17th placement, now living hours away from their original home because it’s the only place where foster parents were available. There’s also the high school students who have become de-facto caregivers for their younger siblings while still needing their own care, and grandparents and great-grandparents who have to forgo a traditional retirement and instead tend to the needs of their relatives. Grandparents like Hicks.

Hicks and O’Brien used to joke that they would be bad at co-parenting. They would count their blessings that they met after their kids were already grown. But some of these differences have proven helpful. O’Brien is more strict than Hicks, and Hicks has come to appreciate the structure he provides.

They’ve gotten used to spending nights performing scenes from the movie “Coco” with Tessa, as tired as it might make them.

They haven’t gotten used to news about all the friends and neighbors who are also raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Such news has become eerily routine. Tessa’s best friend from school is also living with grandparents.

“There’s a lot of young people dying,” Hicks said from her kitchen table. “We see it in the paper every week. They’re going to keep using until they either die, or we get some treatment program that will help people who don’t have money.”

“Until then, kids are going to keep getting turned over to other people.”

Sarah Butrymowicz and Caroline Preston contributed reporting.

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Re: Twice Abandoned - The opioid crisis took their parents, now foster kids left behind are being failed again

Argh!!! I've seen the perspective of this article more times than I can count and it makes me want to shake people to wake them up. While this article is well written and informative, there is an entire side of the story that is never told. Articles like this, albeit well intentioned, are actually contributing to the problem of the opioid crisis. They offer no solution and completely condemn addicts with quotes like, “A lot of the people I know just couldn’t―didn’t want to give it up for their kids. So they lost ’em.” I can promise that no one that has ever experienced the hell of an opioid addiction would utter those words because of one key word, empathy. A former addict probably understands the fact that all choices while on the substance belong to the heroin induced zombie numbed to any feelings produced by any thought that one would think would drive you to stop using.

In my active opioid addiction, even though I was nodding off in my cereal bowl while actively in a conversation with someone—I didn’t know I was addicted. Addict or not, we don’t see ourselves from the perspective of the world, we only see the world from our perspective. It was easy for the people around me to see that I was addicted, but I just saw people being hard on me and picking on me for no reason. I was blind to their perspective as much as they were blind to mine. One quote from the article hit the nail on the head, “There is no such thing as a functioning heroin addict.” Do you realize what that statement reveals? That we are asking non-functioning people to function and make decisions and choices as a functioning human being. It’s not possible. It’s like asking an insanely drunk person to drive sober.

Now that we have established that opioid addicts are non-functioning, did you know that to get sober you have to want it for yourself? You have to choose to get help and then you have to have the wherewithal to find the help and pray that the people to help you are at the top of their game. The only reason I got sober is because I ran out of money, which means the drugs ran out, and the unexplainable physical and emotional hell of withdrawal set in. Then it hits me, “holy shit, I think I’m addicted to this stuff.” I now had to either find some help or some drugs (in most cases the drugs are easier to find), I was desperate and anything would have been ok with me. The help that we have available, again I understand the intentions are good, is crap. A 6% success rate in recovery via Kitsap County Drug Court and the argument is that it’s because people just have to want it for themselves. NO, IT’S THAT THE CHOICE IS OBVIOUS WHEN THE HELL OF ADDICTION IS BETTER THAN THE HELL OF REALITY!!! No business would survive with the success rates that of our recovery centers and drug treatment programs and yet the addicts are blamed, the non-functioning people are blamed. Not to mention the crimes people commit in the addiction, the jobs they lose, the family they lose. The stuff that people have to overcome once they become sober is no reward— not to mention that we are asking people that have lost everything to do what a normal functioning member of society would find impossible. Try to get work every day, knowing that your kids have been taken away, without a driver’s license. Try working only to pay off back child support, court fees fines, and get your driver’s license back. Try making it to work, rehab, meetings, court, to see your kids, without a license. Try doing all this having no one cheering you on and a bunch of people watching, waiting to see you fail cause they know as much as you do how far you have to go just to have anyone trust you ever again.

By the grace of God, I have always had an amazing support team with my mom and dad and in my addiction I hadn’t had kids yet or my fate could have been very different. I sought help from an outpatient drug counselor who seemed more like a probation officer telling me what I had to do—nowhere was the reason I turned to drugs in the first place addressed. The only thing addressed was the drugs, the symptom, not the problem. I found the same when I turned to my primary care doctor. I asked both of them about their history of addiction and neither one of them had ever done a drug in their life… A DRUG COUNSELOR. Nothing like giving a driver’s license to someone who has only read a book about it but never actually touched a car. I was screaming for help, actively looking for help, and the only way I found it was via a sober heroin addict. I know the doctors, counselors, writers, etc… have good intentions and are trying to protect the kids and that’s a beautiful thing BUT the solution is in talking to the people that have come out of hell still breathing (jail/ prison/ would be a great start). Ask the people that have overcome opioid addiction how they did it. Ask them what works, what doesn’t work. Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So let’s change what we’re doing. Instead of condemning addicts let’s try and see what might cause someone to use. Why do people do drugs?

I feel that I need to clarify that I’m not trying to place blame on ANYONE because I am very aware that we are all just truckin’ along doing the very best we can, but I am trying to open some eyes. All involved are the victims, including the addict. Does anyone see the irony in placing a child with the same people that raised the addict? To read, “They haven’t gotten used to news about all the friends and neighbors who are also raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Such news has become eerily routine. Tessa’s best friend from school is also living with grandparents.” makes me ask the question, as to what behaviors the parents of addicts might have displayed leading their own child down the road of addiction? Have they updated their parenting technique? Acknowledged areas that may have contributed? Or maybe some untreated emotional trauma that the now addict never had addressed? Again, I feel that I need to reiterate that these people in the article did the very best they could raising their son with the tools that they had and I commend them and all others for taking in their grandchildren in such a delicate position. I do not want to take their heroes badge away from them but for the sake of all the souls suffering I have to say something.

As for the granddaughter’s sensory problems and learning delay… no kidding!!! Those are all symptoms of PTSD. This little girl has lost her mom and dad, seen and experienced things that most adults can’t handle, and then is put next to kids that haven’t suffered the same trauma as her and she is expected to play “catch up”. This is a good time to mention where public school systems could use a change. Maybe instead of focusing on age/ grade based performance (which in my opinion only puts more pressure on children, parents, teachers, and schools) we could focus more on progression. We have to be aware that all children learn so differently—so this would even help the kids who may not be progressing academically because they are developing more socially and emotionally (which should be more of a focus anyways). The precious little girl in the article has been asked to produce more in a school year than those that didn’t have such a huge deficit. I read in a related article that since being with her grandparents that she had been on a couple of trips that her parents never could have provided her… my heart shattered at the fact that no one else seemed to notice the red flag. Could someone sabotage themselves into addiction to the point of losing their children if they thought their child deserved those things but saw no way to ever be able to provide them?

I am in no way suggesting that removing these kids from the conditions that they were in was wrong or that them being with their grandparents is wrong. I’m saying that having the humility to examine historical parenting could potentially break a viscous cycle (but no one should ever feel guilt for doing the best they could as a parent). Learned helplessness can result from setting a bar so out of reach for someone that the only option is to give up. If expectations aren’t being met when it comes to any human being, it’s important to ask if maybe the bar is too high. Systems are put into place by well-intentioned people trying to “fix” the problem or for financial gain and these things aren’t working. If a panel of doctors could open mindedly communicate with a panel former addicts—then you might find a solution but knowledge should never trump experience (“but the book says…” Yes the book says stuff, and you can remember stuff, but someone else has lived stuff and their opinion should be heard even if their experience didn’t earn them a degree and a 6 figure salary. When kids are in daycare/ school 6+ hours learning academics, when are they given the opportunity to learn how to have quality relationships? So the kids that can sit still and remember stuff succeed while the Einstein’s of our time become addicts?

A GREAT TED Talk about addiction that I think should be the focus of our perspective of addiction is Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong by Johann Hari. Here is the link:

https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?language=en&utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Thank you for reading. This topic is very close to my heart. My husband of 7 years, and the father of my 2 beautiful baby girls relapsed on meth 2 years ago and I am increasingly aware of the areas in a lot of systems that could use a fine tuning, because I am now in them, or I know someone who needs help and can’t find it.

Love,

Stephanie Ellis

steph57ellis@outlook.com

- from STEPHANIE ELLIS, Nov 26, 2018

Re: Twice Abandoned

Argh!!! I've seen the perspective of this article more times than I can count and it makes me want to shake people to wake them up. While this article is well written and informative, there is an entire side of the story that is never told. Articles like this, albeit well intentioned, are actually contributing to the problem of the opioid crisis. They offer no solution and completely condemn addicts with quotes like, “A lot of the people I know just couldn’t―didn’t want to give it up for their kids. So they lost ’em.” I can promise that no one that has ever experienced the hell of an opioid addiction would utter those words because of one key word, empathy. A former addict probably understands the fact that all choices while on the substance belong to the heroin induced zombie numbed to any feelings produced by any thought that one would think would drive you to stop using.

In my active opioid addiction, even though I was nodding off in my cereal bowl while actively in a conversation with someone—I didn’t know I was addicted. Addict or not, we don’t see ourselves from the perspective of the world, we only see the world from our perspective. It was easy for the people around me to see that I was addicted, but I just saw people being hard on me and picking on me for no reason. I was blind to their perspective as much as they were blind to mine. One quote from the article hit the nail on the head, “There is no such thing as a functioning heroin addict.” Do you realize what that statement reveals? That we are asking non-functioning people to function and make decisions and choices as a functioning human being. It’s not possible. It’s like asking an insanely drunk person to drive sober.

Now that we have established that opioid addicts are non-functioning, did you know that to get sober you have to want it for yourself? You have to choose to get help and then you have to have the wherewithal to find the help and pray that the people to help you are at the top of their game. The only reason I got sober is because I ran out of money, which means the drugs ran out, and the unexplainable physical and emotional hell of withdrawal set in. Then it hits me, “holy shit, I think I’m addicted to this stuff.” I now had to either find some help or some drugs (in most cases the drugs are easier to find), I was desperate and anything would have been ok with me. The help that we have available, again I understand the intentions are good, is crap. A 6% success rate in recovery via Kitsap County Drug Court and the argument is that it’s because people just have to want it for themselves. NO, IT’S THAT THE CHOICE IS OBVIOUS WHEN THE HELL OF ADDICTION IS BETTER THAN THE HELL OF REALITY!!! No business would survive with the success rates that of our recovery centers and drug treatment programs and yet the addicts are blamed, the non-functioning people are blamed. Not to mention the crimes people commit in the addiction, the jobs they lose, the family they lose. The stuff that people have to overcome once they become sober is no reward— not to mention that we are asking people that have lost everything to do what a normal functioning member of society would find impossible. Try to get work every day, knowing that your kids have been taken away, without a driver’s license. Try working only to pay off back child support, court fees fines, and get your driver’s license back. Try making it to work, rehab, meetings, court, to see your kids, without a license. Try doing all this having no one cheering you on and a bunch of people watching, waiting to see you fail cause they know as much as you do how far you have to go just to have anyone trust you ever again.

By the grace of God, I have always had an amazing support team with my mom and dad and in my addiction I hadn’t had kids yet or my fate could have been very different. I sought help from an outpatient drug counselor who seemed more like a probation officer telling me what I had to do—nowhere was the reason I turned to drugs in the first place addressed. The only thing addressed was the drugs, the symptom, not the problem. I found the same when I turned to my primary care doctor. I asked both of them about their history of addiction and neither one of them had ever done a drug in their life… A DRUG COUNSELOR. Nothing like giving a driver’s license to someone who has only read a book about it but never actually touched a car. I was screaming for help, actively looking for help, and the only way I found it was via a sober heroin addict. I know the doctors, counselors, writers, etc… have good intentions and are trying to protect the kids and that’s a beautiful thing BUT the solution is in talking to the people that have come out of hell still breathing (jail/ prison/ would be a great start). Ask the people that have overcome opioid addiction how they did it. Ask them what works, what doesn’t work. Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” So let’s change what we’re doing. Instead of condemning addicts let’s try and see what might cause someone to use. Why do people do drugs?

I feel that I need to clarify that I’m not trying to place blame on ANYONE because I am very aware that we are all just truckin’ along doing the very best we can, but I am trying to open some eyes. All involved are the victims, including the addict. Does anyone see the irony in placing a child with the same people that raised the addict? To read, “They haven’t gotten used to news about all the friends and neighbors who are also raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Such news has become eerily routine. Tessa’s best friend from school is also living with grandparents.” makes me ask the question, as to what behaviors the parents of addicts might have displayed leading their own child down the road of addiction? Have they updated their parenting technique? Acknowledged areas that may have contributed? Or maybe some untreated emotional trauma that the now addict never had addressed? Again, I feel that I need to reiterate that these people in the article did the very best they could raising their son with the tools that they had and I commend them and all others for taking in their grandchildren in such a delicate position. I do not want to take their heroes badge away from them but for the sake of all the souls suffering I have to say something.

As for the granddaughter’s sensory problems and learning delay… no kidding!!! Those are all symptoms of PTSD. This little girl has lost her mom and dad, seen and experienced things that most adults can’t handle, and then is put next to kids that haven’t suffered the same trauma as her and she is expected to play “catch up”. This is a good time to mention where public school systems could use a change. Maybe instead of focusing on age/ grade based performance (which in my opinion only puts more pressure on children, parents, teachers, and schools) we could focus more on progression. We have to be aware that all children learn so differently—so this would even help the kids who may not be progressing academically because they are developing more socially and emotionally (which should be more of a focus anyways). The precious little girl in the article has been asked to produce more in a school year than those that didn’t have such a huge deficit. I read in a related article that since being with her grandparents that she had been on a couple of trips that her parents never could have provided her… my heart shattered at the fact that no one else seemed to notice the red flag. Could someone sabotage themselves into addiction to the point of losing their children if they thought their child deserved those things but saw no way to ever be able to provide them?

I am in no way suggesting that removing these kids from the conditions that they were in was wrong or that them being with their grandparents is wrong. I’m saying that having the humility to examine historical parenting could potentially break a viscous cycle (but no one should ever feel guilt for doing the best they could as a parent). Learned helplessness can result from setting a bar so out of reach for someone that the only option is to give up. If expectations aren’t being met when it comes to any human being, it’s important to ask if maybe the bar is too high. Systems are put into place by well-intentioned people trying to “fix” the problem or for financial gain and these things aren’t working. If a panel of doctors could open mindedly communicate with a panel former addicts—then you might find a solution but knowledge should never trump experience (“but the book says…” Yes the book says stuff, and you can remember stuff, but someone else has lived stuff and their opinion should be heard even if their experience didn’t earn them a degree and a 6 figure salary. When kids are in daycare/ school 6+ hours learning academics, when are they given the opportunity to learn how to have quality relationships? So the kids that can sit still and remember stuff succeed while the Einstein’s of our time become addicts?

A GREAT TED Talk about addiction that I think should be the focus of our perspective of addiction is Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong by Johann Hari. Here is the link:

https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?language=en&utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Thank you for reading. This topic is very close to my heart. My husband of 7 years, and the father of my 2 beautiful baby girls relapsed on meth 2 years ago and I am increasingly aware of the areas in a lot of systems that could use a fine tuning, because I am now in them, or I know someone who needs help and can’t find it.

Love,

Stephanie Ellis

steph57ellis@outlook.com

- from STEPHANIE ELLIS, Nov 27, 2018