As the opioid epidemic continues to envelop the lives of individuals throughout the nation, more and more parents who are affected are deemed unfit to care for their children. This is one of the contributing factors as to why rates of children in foster care have recently been on the rise. Children who come from a home with addicted parents have likely been affected by their parent’s addiction in a variety of ways. They may have been subjected to dangerous situations, experienced their parent’s drug use first hand, matured extremely fast, and face unique challenges that differentiate them from other foster children.
Nearly every state in the U.S. has experienced a rise of children in foster care and it can be directly related to the opioid epidemic. Regardless of whether or not the child was exposed to opioids early on while in the womb or as they were beginning to grow up, these children have been touched in harmful ways by the opioid crisis. If you and your family are taking in a foster child who comes from an addicted home, it is important to know how to support this child in order to prepare them for the rest of their lives.
Children of Addicts
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that children who have been exposed to opioid abuse during their mother’s pregnancy can experience cognitive and behavioral difficulties. On the other hand, if a child was raised in an unhealthy environment and exposed to substance abuse, they are also likely to struggle with learning and their behaviors. Fortunately, this study found that the earlier a child is removed from an addicted home and raised in a nurturing environment, the better chance they have at developing normal intellectual abilities and healthy behaviors.
If you have made the decision to foster a child who comes from an addicted home, it is essential to remember that addiction is a family disease that affects parents and children alike. Studies suggest that children whose parents have a substance use disorder are eight times more likely to abuse drugs in the future themselves. They may have experienced trauma, neglect, or abuse which can lead to anxiety, detachment disorders, a lack of coping skills, and fear in communicating their emotions and needs. With emotional support and a caring family, however, this can be mitigated and the cycle of addiction can be broken.
Tips for Supporting a Foster Child
When fostering a child who comes from an addicted home, it is essential to instill a stable environment that makes them feel safe. Here are some tips to consider practicing to support your foster child.
- Engage in frequent and honest conversation. Once the child is comfortable in your home, it is important to not shy away from open communication on the topic of addiction. After all, the best preventative strategy in helping keep teens away from drugs and alcohol is by talking to kids about substance abuse. If you have personal experience with drugs or alcohol, talk openly and honestly with the child about it. This is an opportunity to speak to them about the dangers of substance abuse. By speaking to them in an honest, nonjudgemental way, the child may be more likely to open up to you about their experiences or any questions her or she may have.
- Encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle. It is likely that a child who comes from an addicted home has not been living a fulfilling, healthy lifestyle. Be sure to implement healthy meals and activities into both your life and the child’s life. You can cook dinner with them, take them on nature walks or hikes, and teach them healthy coping skills by practicing them in your own home.
- Get them involved in after-school activites, sports, or hobbies. Encouraging your foster child to take part in after-school activities, youth sports, or hobbies like art, yoga, exercise, and music can help the child develop their interests and instill them with the sense that they are a part of something that is important to them. Many of these activities will also serve as a coping mechanism and help the child build meaningful relationships with their peers.
- Be available to the child. When coming from a home where the parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the parents may have placed their substances as a top priority over the needs of their children. This type of neglect can cause a child to have a low sense of self-worth and self-esteem. By involving your foster child in your life and treating them as your own, you can provide immense support and consistency for the child. Be available when they need to talk and make them aware that they matter to you.
- Help boost the child’s confidence. Making your foster child feel like they matter is the first step in building his or her confidence. Other things you can do to boost their self esteem include praising them when they meet a goal or do something exceptionally well and encouraging them to work hard at anything they encounter. On the contrary, avoid criticism that is not constructive. Instead, show them what they can do differently or better next time.
- Be patient with the child. It is perfectly acceptable for it to take your foster child various lengths of time to feel safe and comfortable in the home. They may also stray away from opening up to you – and that’s okay. If you harass them or push them to talk to you about certain things, it may only push them away. Understand that your foster child may believe that his or her thoughts and opinions are not important, making it imperative for you to continue treating them with love and acceptance. When they do confide in you, make it known that their opinions are valued.
Despite the unique challenges that children who come from addicted households may face, a nurturing environment can help them grow and overcome their experiences. Regardless of their background, children are not destined to suffer from addiction due to the simple fact that their parents do. Supporting the child through difficult times can help set them up for a healthy, successful life.
Watching a child grow and flourish can be a glorious blessing to encounter that you will remember for a lifetime. Providing a foster child with addicted parents with stability, a healthy lifestyle, and self-esteem can help teach them coping skills and healthy habits that are needed for a happy life.