It’s hard to imagine, but newborn babies are placed in foster homes if the baby tests positive for drugs or the biological mother has a history of abuse or neglect. With the opoid crisis the numbers are climbing. Probably due to my own tumultuous childhood (read about it here), I am a strong advocate for babies in foster care. I advocate for them by being a Court Appointed Special Advocate of Essex County, NJ.
It is astounding to know that last year, nearly 1,000 children in Essex County (11,000 in the state and 400,000 nationwide) were placed in foster care, according to CASA’s statistics. These children ranging in age from birth to 21 months were removed from their homes due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Nearly all of the children CASA of Essex County serves come from families living at or below the national poverty line.
The CASA volunteers’ sole role is to represent the best interests of children who are placed in foster care. We ensure they are living in a safe environment by doing home visits, speaking with their pediatricians about their level of care, as well as with their teachers, and guidance counselors. And we report everything we find to the judge at the hearings.
It is immensely gratifying work and I get great satisfaction from it. But, because there is a growing number of babies in foster care (in part due to the opioid epidemic in Essex County), they initiated a pilot program called the “Safe Babies Program.” I was assigned an 8-month baby who was taken from their mother at birth because she tested positive for heroin and falls under the Safe Babies Program. The goal is to stay much closer to the baby than those CASA volunteers assigned to children who are 3-18 years old.
Instead of doing a home visit once every three months, we do them every month. Hearings are also once per month instead of once every three months. The idea behind this program is to put in place additional safeguards since a lot can change in one month in the life of babies in foster care.
Luckily, my baby is a sweet constantly cooing irresistible red-headed green-eyed beauty. She is placed in a loving, beautiful home, she is quite attached to her foster parents and they hope to be able to adopt her. But it hasn’t been decided yet.
Typically, the biological parents have 12 months to prove they are capable of providing a safe environment before any long-term decisions are made. In my case, the biological mother lives alone in an apartment, is unemployed, receives federal assistance, and has been addicted to heroin since the age of 13 (she is now in her early 30’s). Her mother died of an opioid-related overdose and she has chosen to give up 3 other children for adoption. But she is highly motivated to make this one work.
The baby is now 9 months old and the biological mom has reached each milestone mandated by the court including outpatient rehab treatment, twice weekly visits with the baby, passing drug screens, and will be going inpatient this week. Like with all foster cases, the overriding hope is to return the baby to the biological parent (no father has been identified).
While we root for mom, I can’t help but wonder what the long-term effects of taking this baby away from its foster home — the only home she’s ever known? Detachment Disorder is just one of the many psychological effects she can suffer as a result. For a better understanding, view my blog on the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
The foster home is filled with siblings, has 2 playrooms, age-appropriate toys, lots of love and the schools in the area are top-notch. Whereas, the mom lives in an apartment, in a lower-income area where schools are questionable.
But the most important obstacle to getting the baby back to her mom is the mother’s battle with opioid addiction. The statistics on recovery are discouraging. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin users’ relapse rate is nearly 80%. That can mean 1 slip or a lifetime of continued abuse.
I know firsthand how hard it is to kick an opioid addiction. My son struggled with it for 7 long years and we were fortunate enough to be able to provide him with the very best care. Unfortunately, he succumbed to it and passed away 6 and a half months ago from an accidental Fentanyl overdose (read about it here).
I truly hope this biological mom gets well and she can be a shining example for all babies in foster care, but I have to admit I am somewhat skeptical. I’m interested in your thoughts. Please comment below
- If you want to advocate for babies in foster care contact CASA in your area or by going to https://nationalcasagal.org/.
- If you are considering adopting a baby/child from foster care go to https://creatingafamily.org/https://creatingafamily.org/