WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – The opiate crisis is taking its toll on families and forcing many grandparents and other family members to take on the role of parent for those in the throes of addiction.
Take Kim Webb for example, who nowadays watches her son Doug talk about his battle with addiction.
“I can’t even tell you how proud I am of him,” Webb said.
“I’ve been through hell and back,” she added. “I mean, I knew what I was gonna say at his funeral because that’s how bad it was.”
Following a record year of overdose-related deaths in Trumbull County, officials at Trumbull County Children Services say the number of children placed with other family members has increased over the past three years.
While many children who become the victims of their drug addicted parents will end up in foster care, many are placed with other family members.
Doug is doing well in recovery now — but not too far away, the Boyle family is in mourning.
“No parent should have to go through this,” David Boyle said. “We shouldn’t be burying our kids.”
Boyle’s daughter Nicole died of a heroin overdose a year ago, leaving her now 6-year-old son behind.
“We found her on the floor by her bed with her son in the next room sleeping,” Boyle said.
Both families have custody of their grandchildren — and Webb has her niece too.
They’re among the growing number of families who are given custody of their relatives’ children who’ve become victims of the heroin epidemic.
“The grandparents are not only taking care of their grandchildren, but they’re grieving the life-threatening illness of their child at the same time,” said Tim Schaffner, executive director of Trumbull County Children Services. “So they’re taking on a lot in the world.”
WKBN checked into the numbers and found that the number of children placed with other family members through children services in Mahoning County is already tied with last year, and in Trumbull, up by 45.
And that’s just through October.
For these reasons, children services agencies across the state have either already established kinship programs to help these families out or are hoping to get theirs up and running soon.
“What we want to do is provide kind of mirror foster care,” said Tony Paris of Mahoning County Children Services. “We wanna provide the same support to the kinship caregivers that we do to our foster parents.”
Back at Webb’s house, she’s happy her granddaughter and son are rebuilding their relationship and is hopeful about their future as a family.
“When I see them together — and I never thought I’d be able to say this because I love her like she’s my own — she doesn’t belong with me,” Webb said. “She belongs with [Doug], but right now, his sobriety comes first.”
WKBN is launching a year-long public service campaign to raise awareness about the problem and help come up with solutions. It kicked off with a special town hall discussion, “27 Investigates: Heroin Crisis – National Problem, Local Solutions.”
See all of WKBN 27 First News’ stories on the epidemic in our “Heroin Crisis” section.