An increasing number of children are tragic victims of the state’s opioid crisis

Nearly every day we see more evidence of the worsening opioid crisis in West Virginia. A recent review of child custody cases before the State Supreme Court graphically illustrates what is happening in our state.

Here are just a couple examples chosen at random of appeals in cases where DHHR has taken a child out of a home or where a parent has given up their rights.

–The DHHR filed an abuse and neglect petition against a woman whose newborn tested positive for illegal drugs.  The agency stated the mother had a history of heroin abuse.

–The DHHR filed an abuse and neglect petition against parents who had a history of drug abuse that led to the termination of parental rights of two other children previously.

–The DHHR took a child out of a home after police found evidence of drug use. The house was “filthy and roach-infested, with live and dead cockroaches in the refrigerator.”

–The DHHR took a three-year-old child away from its mother after the woman was found passed out in the middle of the street intoxicated with a needle stuck in her arm. The baby was in a stroller nearby.

DHHR has seen a 46 percent increase in children taken into state custody from October 2014 to October 2017, and eight out of every ten children removed from homes are being abused or neglected or both because of drug use by the parents.

In 2006, DHHR had to rescue 970 children from homes because of drug abuse. In the last 12 years, that number has increased nearly three-fold to 2,625.  DHHR case workers have been overwhelmed.

Last Week, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch announced the addition of 48 positions in Child Protective Services to help reduce the caseload.  To Crouch’s credit, he is eliminating positions in other parts of the agency to create the new slots.  Crouch is also trying to cobble together funds to give those front-line workers a little extra on top of the five-percent pay raise approved by the legislature this year.

DHHR is trying desperately to keep up and foster parents are in short supply, making it increasingly difficult to find a temporary safe home for these children.  The state and the foster parents are doing all they can, but even their best efforts are no substitute for a stable, loving and long-term environment.

We know that life is not always fair, but there is something especially devastating about these innocent children becoming victims of their parents’ addiction.  The drug addled may get some temporary relief from their suffering when they stick a needle in their arm, but the children get only pain.

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