- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - The number of children removed from their homes in the state because of a parent’s drug abuse has been on the rise with the worsening drug epidemic.

At least one person a day dies in Maine from a drug overdose, according to the secretary of state’s office. And more than 1,000 babies are born affected by drugs each year, state officials say. An increasing number of children under age 5 have entered state custody over the last decade.

The Associated Press received data, through a state Freedom of Access Act request, showing that the state Department of Health and Human Services removed 440 children from their homes in 2015 because of a parent’s drug abuse, just over half of all children removed from their homes that year. The number was up from 282 in 2009.

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement last fall: “If we do not get at the heart of the issue, these children could face negative outcomes such as poor social and emotional development along with depression and even substance abuse issues of their own.”

Through family treatment drug courts, parents can participate in treatment and work on plans to be reunited with their children. The state last year launched a pilot program to help an estimated 250 parents access parent education and substance abuse treatment services.

But while the state takes steps to help families, those on the front lines say many addicted parents aren’t getting the help they need for several reasons, including the lack of treatment options in rural communities, restrictions on MaineCare eligibility, social stigma and their own feelings of shame.

“It’s not only the stigma the community may have about parents who have an addiction but the stigma that individuals themselves have about their own addiction,” said Larry Tyler, project coordinator with the Penquis Regional Linking Project in Bangor.

The initiative serves families in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties with young children. It helps parents get such services as pre-natal classes and provides bus passes and gas money for those living in rural communities to get to treatment and doctor visits.

Tyler said the goal is to intervene as soon as possible, particularly in the early stages of recovery when the person’s body is actually repairing itself and he or she is struggling to cope.

“It’s a traumatic situation to have somebody knock at your door and say: ‘You’ve got a serious problem, we’re taking your kids,’” he said.

But the project’s federal grant runs out this year, and advocates worry that misinformed attitudes about people with drug addiction is jeopardizing public funding for services to turn the problem around.

“If the public perception is that people with addiction are deliberately lazy, then people will never get into the treatment they need, they won’t improve and the families won’t improve from it,” said Beverly Daniels, who heads the organization’s lead agency, Families And Children Together.

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