“Have you considered putting him in foster care?”
The woman on the other end of the phone sounded exhausted, like she had asked this question a thousand times. She probably had. She deals every day with mothers who are terrified, desperate, and reaching out for help.
There was no more room at the foster care facility. The demand was simply too high.
In North Carolina, over 5,000 children are entered into foster care yearly. In a national review, the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare reported that 64.5% of these kids go to foster care because of “neglect,” which tends to mean substance abuse more often than any other risk factor.
A recent study found that the number of pregnant women on narcotic painkillers has doubled in the past fifteen years. A Today Parents survey reports that 40% of respondents claim that alcohol helps them cope with the stress of parenting.
Addicted women who lose custody of their children suffer greater psychological and functional impairment, as well as somatization, anxiety, psychosis and distress than non-addicted mothers — all of which may further damage these women’s ability to reach reunification with their children. Few public detoxification and treatment centers, already underfunded and overbooked, offer healthy parenting skills trainings.
So, where is a mother to go when she wants to quit her addiction?
Eleven years ago, when I was seeking treatment, there was only one agency in North Carolina that I could find that was able to accept women with children. And they had fifteen beds and a two-year waiting list.
Fortunately, there are now 21 facilities across the state designed to maintain and address the needs of maternal caregivers. A peek at the weekly bed availability shows seventeen beds currently available. Seventeen women will not have to decide between losing their addiction or their children this week.
My story did not end with me finding space at a facility such as these — where I could recover with my son, heal, and learn how to be a whole person and a good mother. Child Protective Services made the decision to take my son. He lived with my mother until I was deemed “fit” to regain custody. I almost didn’t make it through that year. When my son screamed for me after our scheduled visitations, I wanted nothing more than to feel the relief narcotic use provides. I made it through, barely. Many women do not.
Women should not have to live under a cloak of silence when it comes to addiction recovery in order to maintain custody of their children. The stigma attached to drug and alcohol abuse deters many from admitting a problem. For some who might otherwise seek help, the added consequence of losing a child shuts the door on recovery efforts entirely.
We must work to change the face of recovery in North Carolina and remove barriers to treatment for all residents and dispel the myth that drug or alcohol dependency is a smear on one’s name or cripples one’s ability to parent effectively in the future.
The Alcohol and Drug Council of North Carolina has a 24-hour information and referral hotline. Please call if you, or a loved one, need help.