- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

MONROE, Mich. (AP) - With a third of Monroe County babies born exposed to drugs, local agencies are hoping to connect mothers to community resources to help them and their babies lead healthy and successful lives.

The Monroe County Great Start Collaborative and partners ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, Monroe County Health Department and many more have created the Child Impact Subcommittee.

The subcommittee works to develop local networks, provide educational opportunities and initiate policy changes to address community issues, according to the Monroe News ( https://bit.ly/1zkXofg ) .

“The impact of substance abuse is a huge issue among adults,” said Amy Zarend, director of the Great Start Collaborative. “We are seeing drug-addicted and drug-exposed children in our Early On and preschool programs.”

Young children are coming to school with behavior challenges or developmental delays as a direct result of a mother’s decision during birth.

Zarend said the committee’s purpose is to help connect mothers with the services available to them.

“We want to help mom and support her,” she said.

Research shows that anything the mother eats or drinks affects the baby during pregnancy, Zarend said.

“There can be developmental side effects that carry over into the school years,” she said.

The plan is to support all mothers and not push for children to be parented by someone else, she added.

“We are not trying to get the babies taken away,” Zarend said. “There might be some fear on the mom’s part about that, but we are trying to provide her support.”

The committee was developed as a result of the collaborative’s strategic planning process and conducted its first meeting in October. It includes about 15 people from about 10 agencies.

Wendy Klinski, clinical supervisor and operations manager for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, said the support group curriculum will help mothers learn about addiction as a disease, what they can accomplish for themselves and their children along with support information for after the birth.

“The ultimate goal is for the moms to get formalized treatment,” she said. ” That begins by getting them to come to the meetings.”

The number of women addicted to substances like heroin has increased sharply. In the short term, the committee hopes to help educate women and connect them with the proper programs to help.

For the long- term, the goal is more challenging.

“We would like to have healthier babies born without addiction,” Klinski said.

Overcoming a societal stigma also is a challenge for the group.

“One of the biggest challenges is society thinks that you can just stop the addiction,” Klinski said. “If a substance is ingested even once, it transforms your brain and you might not be able to stop.”

In addition, the subcommittee is addressing a number of policy changes with regard to pregnant mothers and newborn babies, Zarend said.

The policy changes will help women have healthier pregnancies and have fewer withdrawal symptoms for babies born exposed. The support group also will assist mom after birth should she decide to parent the child.

“We know that these children are born every day here in our community, and it is important that we address the issue sooner rather than later to get supports and services in place,” Zarend said. “These children will soon be in classrooms throughout Monroe County, so we need to make sure that they are prepared to be there to the best of their ability. And, it’s important that parents feel connected and have the resources they need in place to positively parent their children.”


Information from: Monroe News, https://www.monroenews.com

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