BLUE CREEK, Ohio (CBS News and WKBN) – The opioid crisis is taking a heavy toll on children across the country and Ohio is one of the hardest hit areas.
The children of addicts are left with a heavy burden when parents choose drugs over them.
CBS News sent a camera to Ohio to talk with a family raising the children of addicts and Ohio Attorney Mike DeWine on what is being done to combat the crisis.
On a winding trail in southeastern Ohio, four children symbolize the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic. Delaney, Liam, Finnian and Connally are living with their Aunt Suzanne Valle. She and her husband are raising them as their own because their parents are heroin addicts.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to see that parents will take drugs over their children,” Valle said.
Suzanne is talking about her own brother. Valle tells the children that their parents love them, but they are not able to take care of them.
Valle is raising a fifth child – a boy named Ronny who just turned one. His mother is an addict somewhere in town.
It’s estimated that due in part to the opioid catastrophe, at least two and a half million children nationwide are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, but some have no relatives who will take them in and they go directly to foster care.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said about 50 percent of kids in foster care are there because both parents are drug addicts.
Fourteen thousand children are in agency custody statewide, up 14 percent in five years. Case workers are stressed to the limit.
“We are removing one to three infants a month that are born to parents addicted to drugs,” said Jill Wright, executive director, Adams County Children’s Services.
“Those infant mothers? A lot of them we never see again. They never come to visit. They just leave their child and carry on with their addiction,” Wright said.
Wright said the current situation is the worst she has seen in her 26 years of social work.
Valle agrees that this is not a gathering storm, the storm is upon us.
“I do foster care, but it is almost like it is not enough because there are so many kids who need somebody,” Valle said. “All these kids that are lying there at night afraid because they don’t know the future.”
Kids like Jack. We won’t show his face because he’s only 14. He’s been in and out of foster care four different times.
“I called my dad one day and I was talking to him, and I was like Dad, why can’t you just try and get me? He was like I just can’t stop. Like, the drugs overtook him, and I was like you’re one messed up Dad to pick drugs over your own kid and I just hung up,” Jack said.
And there are thousands more just like him, but a new study shows more people are considering adopting children like Jack.
The study was conducted by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
They found that because there are more conversations happening about kids in foster care, more Americans are considering fostering and adopting.
“They need somebody who can just be there for them, be that stable, loving force, be consistent, and be their advocate, their cheerleader. You don’t have to fix them. Meet them where they are and be willing to let them grow from that point,” said Cheryl Tarantino, Northeast Ohio Adoption Services.
Tarantino said older kids have the toughest time finding an adoptive family.
“For them, trusting is not easy. They are going to put up walls and they are going to challenge because they are going to see if you are going to stick. They don’t want any more loss. They don’t want someone else to push them away. That just makes them feel more and more less of a person,” Tarantino said.
Each year in Ohio, about 1,500 kids will age out of the system without ever finding an adoptive home. Many end up with negative outcomes like unemployment and homelessness.
Tarantino said they have seen a growing number of empty nesters, single moms and dads and members of the LBGTQ community exploring adoption.