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Opioid epidemic affecting foster care and adoption agencies

An opioid epidemic is sweeping the nation and it is having a profound effect on foster kids.

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that death rates are rising among young and middle-aged adults, especially millennials. Opioids kill more than 100 people a day. The CDC relates this to more people being prescribed opioids, abusing them and then moving on to more potent illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. This pattern starts when prescribed, unused opioids are shared with family members or friends for whom the drug was not prescribed. From that pattern, the results trickle down to the various foster care and adoption agencies charged with helping families become healthy and whole again.

READ: When President Trump donated salary to fighting opioids

“The opioid epidemic is definitely a top reason why children/youth enter the foster care system,” said Ramona Conrad-Cooper, vice president of Missouri Baptist Children’s Home (MBCH) Children and Family Ministries.

MBCH, although originally founded as an orphanage, has expanded to a multifaceted agency providing therapeutic group homes, family foster care, treatment family care, pregnancy services, transitional living programs, family resource development, human trafficking rescue and group homes for adults with developmental disabilities.


“The proportion of children entering the system due to parental substance abuse rose from 14 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2017,” she said. “We have seen extremely sad and devastating effects on the children we case manage, some that now have catastrophic health problems due to accidental ingestion of parents’ drugs or physical abuse by a parent high on drugs.”

MBCH provides trauma-informed care for the adults, children and families they help through trauma-informed ministries that address the whole person: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically. They achieve this through this program model:

  • Work toward permanency. Ensure all clients have a loving, permanent home.
  • Celebrate the family: Help the family function in a healthy manner.
  • Move to community: Move to the least restrictive situation as possible where clients are connected with natural helpers and thriving in their communities.
  • Share our faith. This is the heart of the agency.
  • Provide trauma-informed care: provide services to clients in a trauma-informed and trauma-effective manner.

“Nevertheless, the overwhelming majorities of these parents love their children and strive to overcome their substance abuse issues,” Conrad-Cooper said. “We depend on relatives and foster parents to step in and fill the gap.”

MBCH strives to provide the best professional care within the context of an unapologetically Christian environment. Conrad-Cooper shared a story of one of its clients. The names and some of the circumstances have been changed to protect confidentiality. It is written by a staff member.

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Sister

By Von Hulin, Program Director

Jillian had been down this road before. She wanted a better life for Tessa, who in her three years of life had seen more and experienced more than anyone should have, especially a 3-year-old. Substance use and unhealthy relationships had taken their toll on Jillian, and it had become more than she could handle. When neighbors found Tessa at home alone earlier this year, the Children’s Division became involved, which brought Tessa into state custody.

Jillian’s sister, Maggie, would be called on to take Tessa into her home and care for her. Maggie knew this was something she had to do, as she would do anything for her niece and her sister. This was no small commitment for Maggie. As her children were in middle school and high school, life looks very different with a 3-year-old who misses her mother. The car seat, regular schedule, daycare and doctor appointments are just a few of the practical things added to their lives. Add in court hearings, family support team meetings, various worker visits in the home, an in-depth home study and visits for Tessa and Jillian — this was a lot for anyone to absorb.

After some time, Tessa got somewhat settled into Maggie’s family. Maggie’s husband and children helped out where they could, and Tessa was now a part of the regular routine in their household. Jillian had good days and not so good days, and there were times that no one would hear from her for weeks, even months at a time. One day, Tessa’s case manager called Maggie to say that she had heard from Jillian — she was pregnant and due any day. Jillian knew that her drug screen would be positive and wanted the baby to go to her sister. The case manager expected a pause and some questions from Maggie. Instead, Maggie said, “We’ll start getting ready. Let us know when the baby is born”. She then asked “How is Jillian?”

Within the week, Jillian gave birth to Sam. There were a few issues with his health due to the drug exposure but when Maggie met her nephew; she knew he was perfect. Maggie and her family added a car seat, a crib, a lot of diapers and all kinds of baby equipment. They are finding their new “regular” routine. Jillian has made some progress in her recovery and now has regular visits with Tessa and Sam.

It is too early to know what the rest of the story will be. Pray for the parents who struggle with addictions and are working on being the best parents they can be for their children. Pray for the relatives whose love for their family is far greater than the frustrations and pain that often come with those relatives. Pray for the children caught in the middle who need all of the love and healing they can get.

Chris Ruhnke, marketing director for Show-Me Christian Youth Home, shared how the opioid epidemic has affected their organization. “Show-Me is an alternative to state-based foster care,” he said.

The organization is funded solely by donations and absolutely no state funding. However, for children to receive help through the organization, they may not already be a ward of the state.

opioid foster

“I can remember speaking at a church group to make them aware of our organization and how we can help families,” Ruhnke said. A police officer who was a member of the church came up to speak with me after the presentation. He had shared that in his line of work, he encountered families who could use our help.”.

The police officer shared that at many times some of the situations he has to look into require a follow-up on the families, and if they haven’t improved the situation within a certain amount of time (usually 24 hours), the children have to be removed from the home. The officer shared how that is so overwhelming for families dealing with multiple issues that in no way could be acceptable resolved within that time frame.

“The officer shared he couldn’t suggest solutions until the family members ask if he knows of anything that they could do to help fix their situation,” Ruhnke said. “He said it would help if he had a brochure he could give them about our organization. The family could then contact Show-Me within that 24-hour period, and we could at that time intervene and help start them down the path to healthier environment.”

Many times those families are in a state where the parents are suffering from a drug abuse problem, often opioid-related.

“The kids then get shuffled from one family member to another, trying to fill the parental gaps,” he said. “At times, the children may need more help than what they can provide, or their health may prevent them from being able to continue care of the children.”

opioid foster

Show-Me Christian Youth Home saw five students graduate from high school during the height of the pandemic.

At that time, family members may turn to Show-Me to intervene and assist. Show-Me does that through a restoration path that goes beyond the limits of traditional care methods by creating an individualized environment for each child to thrive academically, physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually through Christ-centered elements.

“Children find a safe, stable, loving home and family with layers of support geared toward their current and future success,” Ruhnke said. “Each child lives in a traditional family setting with six to eight siblings led by a trained husband-and-wife team. The children are provided with an individualized, self-paced, private Christian school option utilizing nationally accredited accelerated Christian Education coursework.

“Classes are complemented with the arts, athletics, music and other enrichment opportunities to help youth discover and develop their gifts. Counseling by licensed professional Counselors is provided to assist with their emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. Then we also provide programs to help them succeed beyond graduation and into adulthood through Path to Purpose and Leadership U.”

Although Ruhnke was unable to provide statistics about opioid related cases the organization assisted with in 2020, he was able to provide this information.

“Since 2011, Show-Me has received 2,268 pleas for help from struggling families,” he said. “We have been able to assist 5 percent, 105, of those pleas due to the limitations of our current facilities. ‘Rescue and Restore Even More’ is our battle cry as we take steps to ensure that every child can know the security, support, and life-changing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through a loving home and family.”

–Amy Buster | Metro Voice