CASA of Caroline encourages and supports healthy families. Unfortunately, many families struggle with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and addiction. From 2000 to 2017 there was a 147% increase in foster care entries in the United States due to parents’ drug use, according to a 2019 study from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) and published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Many of those foster care entries resulted from authorities determining the parents’ drug use inhibited adequate care for their children. In other cases, the parents faced incarceration or worse – an overdose resulting in death. It is clear substance use and addiction have a tremendous impact on families, especially their most vulnerable members – the children.
When a parent loses custody of his or her child, there is a great sense of shame. When a person is struggling with addiction, there is a great sense of shame. When a parent loses custody of their child BECAUSE of addiction, the shame is almost unbearable. In the words of noted researcher and motivational speaker Brene Brown, “Shame survives on secrets, silence and judgement.” So how do we stop the cycle of shame and keep families together?
“It is so important for the family of an addict to get support. Just as shame can impact a person struggling with addiction, it can also impact the family,” says Lesa Lee, Clinical Director at For All Seasons Behavioral Health and Rape Crisis Center. “Keeping a secret and remaining silent can cause people to feel lonely, scared and isolated.”
She encourages those struggling with addiction or impacted by addiction to seek support from family, friends, therapy, and/or a support group. “NA [Narcotics Anonymous] and AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] are powerful supports in our community which offer a sense of connection and acceptance.” There are also Alanon and Alateen support groups available for friends and families of addicts.
Parents struggling with addiction may feel pulled in multiple directions. Their disease is telling them to keep using, but their heads are telling them they need to care for their children.
According to Lesa, “Families may be torn apart by a loss of custody and a strong desire for that family member to get better. This may trigger a deep desire for an addict to change. But the challenge for many people is understanding that the addict has to get better for themselves. Recognizing the stress and struggles that the addiction has on the family is very important, but treatment is most successful when the individual makes a conscious decision and is committed to making the change for themselves versus for someone else.”
Our foster care system was designed to provide support for parents when they are temporarily unable to meet their child’s needs. At CASA of Caroline, when a child is placed in the foster care system, the initial plan is always reunification when it is in the child’s best interest. CASA of Caroline supports efforts to help parents with SUD reach recovery so their children can remain safely in their care.
“CASA volunteers now receive far more training and continuing education on topics of drug abuse, addiction and treatment,” said Shelly Kulp, Executive Director at CASA of Caroline. “CASA volunteers spend a great amount of time with each child they serve and know firsthand what the child is experiencing. We remind our volunteers to be compassionate and nonjudgmental, especially when serving children of parents with drug and alcohol addiction.”
Just as airlines tell parents to put on their own oxygen mask first, we encourage parents to make sure their own mental and physical health are in good shape before trying to care for their children. There is no shame in asking for help. It’s OK to admit you need help putting on your own oxygen mask. “If you are a person struggling with or impacted by addiction, be brave, be vulnerable, and be kind to yourself,” says Lesa. “Kindness and empathy are the antidote to shame. Remember that bravery is not the absence of fear – it is being able to do something very challenging even though you feel the fear.”
Last year, CASA of Caroline received a call from a young woman who had lost custody of her children five years earlier. They had been placed in foster care and assigned CASA volunteer advocates. This woman called to thank CASA for helping her children through a difficult time and to let the staff know she had been clean and sober for over a year, was attending regular NA and AA meetings and had regained custody of her children. She said losing custody of her children was the bottom she needed to hit to seek the help she needed. We pray the story of this brave young woman who faced her fears and addiction provides hope for another struggling parent. All families deserve to be happy and healthy and there is no shame in asking for help. The struggles are real. And so are the solutions.
“I am grateful to all who take the time to consider healing or understanding the impacts of addiction,” concludes Lesa. CASA of Caroline is in complete agreement. Together, For All Seasons and CASA of Caroline can strengthen families and support them in healthy choices.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, there are resources. For All Seasons has offices throughout the Mid Shore, including downtown Denton. Visit www.forallseasonsinc.org. There are also NA and AA meetings whose days and times are available on www.midshoreintergroup.org and a schedule of Alanon meetings is available on www.al-anon.org. Due to the pandemic, many of these meetings are available online. For further information about CASA of Caroline or how to become a CASA volunteer, visit www.carolinecasa.org or call 410-479-8301.