The opioid epidemic is pushing more and more children into foster care, as their parents are unfit to care for them while they are bound tightly by the grips of addiction. Foster children who were born into a family with addicted parents have likely seen the unthinkable, have been forced to mature far too quickly, and have unique experiences that set them apart from other foster children.
The Washington Post reports that nearly every state in the nation has seen a rise in the number of children being put into foster care directly related to opioid addiction as their parents are deemed unfit to care for their children. Perhaps the child you are fostering is an infant who was born addicted to opioids or they are an older child who has seen first hand the detrimental effects opioids can reap upon a family. Regardless of the circumstances, there are important things to know and practice when fostering a child who was born into an addicted home.
Children of Addicted Parents
A study published by the National Institutes of Health examines the fact that children who are exposed to opioid drugs during a mother’s pregnancy are susceptible to behavioral and cognitive issues. In addition, children that have grown up in an unhealthy environment where drugs were involved were more likely to develop learning and behavioral problems.
However, the study found that children who were removed from the home at an early age and raised in nurturing foster or adoption homes adapted to their new environments and developed normal intellectual abilities.
Before fostering a child who has addicted parents, it is important to recognize that addiction is a family disease. It affects not only the parents, but it has likely strongly affected the child as well. Due to both nature and nurture, children of addicts are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction of their own at some point in their life. Fortunately, with the appropriate support and care, the cycle can be broken.
Supporting your Foster Child
Children who have been exposed to substance abuse in the home are likely to suffer from anxiety, have a lack of coping skills, and may be afraid to communicate their feelings. It is imperative that your home maintains a safe, stable environment while fostering a child who comes from a family with addiction. Here are some ways to support your foster child.
- Encourage open communication: Talk to your foster child openly about your experience with drugs and alcohol. Even if you don’t suffer from addiction, you can communicate clear messages about the dangers of substance abuse. If you are open and honest with them in a nonjudgemental manner, they will be more likely to confide in you.
- Introduce them to hobbies or extracurricular activities: Kids absorb and take on the actions of their role models, so it is important to encourage them to participate in sports, arts, music, or any other type of healthy activity.
- Promote a healthy lifestyle: Educate them about healthy living through your own practices. This includes cooking meals together, spending time in nature, and teaching them healthy ways to cope with their emotions.
- Build their confidence: Many children who come from addicted homes may have suffered neglect or have a low sense of self-esteem. Acknowledge when he or she does something well or accomplishes a goal. Encourage them to work hard and overcome any obstacles they may face.
- Be available: Parents who are addicted to drugs likely placed their drugs of higher importance than their child, causing a diminished sense of self-worth. Provide consistent support to build trust and a sense of safety with your foster child. Let them know that they matter.
- Be patient: It may take time for your foster child to feel comfortable in your home and with opening up to you. They may feel as though their opinions and thoughts are irrelevant, so don’t give up on treating them with love, compassion, and kindness.
Taking these steps will help create a supportive, compassionate, and nurturing environment for the child you foster. No child is destined to addiction merely because their parents were. It may not be easy, but a stable environment like this can help set up a foster child for success. Watching a child grow and flourish will be a miraculous gift for you to experience and will benefit them for a lifetime. Instilling a stable life can help teach them the coping mechanisms and healthy habits they need to break the cycle of addiction.
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.