Substance use and abuse are both on the rise in Maine. And so is the generational trauma associated with drug use. An estimated 8 million U.S. children, the majority under age 5, lived in households with at least one parent with a substance use disorder from 2009 to 2014, according to a report by the United Hospital Fund. Foster care, health care and school systems have all felt the strain.
In just the last month, four children have died while in the custody of a parent. These deaths have spurred a broad response from state government that includes hiring a national organization dedicated to improving child safety and well-being.
This outside group will help the state investigate the deaths, which have so far resulted in charges for three of the four parents. And while it is too soon to say what factors were involved in those deaths, their occurrence points to the vulnerabilities of Maine’s youngest residents and of the systems designed to protect them.
For new mothers battling addiction, there is help at hand. To target this specific group, the state of Maine has launched the MaineMOM program to help pregnant women and mothers with infants.
The program will provide counseling and treatment for women through the first year of a child’s life in an effort to improve outcomes and reduce health care costs.
We hope this program will give struggling mothers the chance to care for their children, interrupting what, for many families, is a cycle of use and abuse.
During the last five years, close to 10,000 children in Maine have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care. The state has determined in each instance that a parent (or parents) is not fit to care for their children, many times due to neglect or abuse. Since 2017, the number of children placed in foster care has grown by 30 percent, with the largest spike taking place in 2020.
If we can reach mothers early in their pregnancies and provide them with the lasting help they need, we will see a reduction in foster care placements as well as a reduction in costs – both monetary and human.
Over the next nine years, the state of Maine expects to receive roughly $20 million from Perdue Pharma following a long legal battle over its role in the opioid crisis. We hope that money from sources such as this will help fund programs that will abate the state’s growing crisis.
Fighting addiction is an uphill battle. As the historic level of deaths this past year by overdose show, we are nowhere close to having it under control. As the state and the country make investments in families, and in children in particular, we must make sure to target those resources to where they are needed most.
We know that children thrive when they have a robust support system and a stable home environment. It is important that parents are given every opportunity to succeed.