MASON, Ohio -- What happens when children experience trauma in their lives because a parent is addicted to opioids? That's the question Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine tried to help answer at an all-day "Ideas for Our Future" conference Tuesday.
"For our state to succeed, we must do everything we can to support our most vulnerable citizens, our children," DeWine said in a news release. "Agencies across the state -- from law enforcement to schools to private citizens -- are stepping up to support the children in their communities that are impacted by the opioid epidemic, and this conference will feature some of the programs that are working to transform the lives of children and their families."
About 700 people in attendance at Christ’s Church in Mason learned that one in eight children experiences trauma growing up. One of every three audience members admitting having some sort of trauma at a young age. However, it doesn't always have to involve parental drug use.
Consider the story of Debbie Bowman, president of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Cincinnati.
"My mother was schizophrenic and manic depressive, and she was extremely abusive," Bowman said. "She actually murdered my brother at the age of 8. He was 8 — second grade — and I continued to be abused the rest of my life."
Bowman said poverty also plays a role in traumatizing children. That's where caring adults can step in and make a big difference.
"A child isn't born angry. They develop that anger," Bowman said. "You don’t say to a child, 'What is wrong with you?' (What) you say to a child is, 'What happened to you?' "
Freeman McNeal of the Mount Auburn Community Development Housing Authority was in attendance to learn new ways of reaching children. He said he doesn't accept that the situation is hopeless when a parent is on drugs.
"We had addicts back in our days. We had addicts back in our parents' days," he said. "That didn’t prevent the children from being raised in the community because they always had someone that they could go to for a better situation than they had at home."
In Bowman's case, she said she was lucky to find a teacher and coach who became her mentors.
"I certainly could have been one of those kids that you were going to pay for because I was going to be on welfare," she said. "I was going to be in jail or, quite frankly, I was going to be dead."
At the conference, DeWine also discussed the unprecedented toll opioid addiction has taken on Ohio families. More than 15,500 children are in the custody of Ohio's children service agencies, a 23 percent increase over 2016, according to the latest data from the Public Children Protective Services Association of Ohio, a Columbus-based nonprofit.
Of those children, about half were removed from their home because they have a parent with a substance abuse disorder. About 28 percent of kids have parents who were using opioids at the home when they were removed.
Good morning! We are in Mason today getting ready for our Ideas for Our Future conference at @theccmason. This all-day event will focus on the #OpioidEpidemic and its impact on Ohio's most vulnerable citizens: CHILDREN. The hashtag to follow is: #OHCares4Kids pic.twitter.com/rVZ9mGpDNS
— Ohio AG Mike DeWine (@OhioAG) March 27, 2018
Mindy Arlotta, director of foster care and adoption with Lighthouse Youth Services, said the opioid epidemic has intensified needs of children.
“This is a community issue,” Arlotta said. “These are the children of our community; these are the children of our future.”
Groups featured at Tuesday's conference for their innovative, replicable programs to help children and families include:
The Dalton Family Foundation (Aurora): After attending Attorney General DeWine's "Ideas in Motion" conference in 2017, the Dalton Family Foundation decided to develop Relink.org, a searchable website dedicated to helping families in crisis easily find addiction services, employment, food, housing, counseling, and transportation.
Family of Faith Community Church (Newark): Approximately one-third of the church members who attend Family of Faith Community Church have fostered or adopted children, many of whom are suffering due to addiction in the family.
Handle With Care (Springfield): Handle With Care is a partnership between the Springfield City School District and the Clark County Sheriff's Office in which deputies alert the district to incidents at a home involving a student. The district then provides extra support for that student at school to help reduce behavioral problems as a result of home challenges.
Highland Elementary School (Columbus City School District): A trauma-informed school, Highland Elementary's teachers are all trauma-trained to help students cope with stress and trauma that may be occurring in the home.
Kids in School Rule! (Cincinnati): Kids in School Rule! (KISR!) is a partnership among Cincinnati Public Schools, Hamilton County Job and Family Services, Hamilton County Juvenile Court, and the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. The program's goal is to reduce a foster child's barriers to academic success due to placement changes. KISR! helps keep kids in a single school, and if they must transfer, KISR! ensures that a student misses little to no instructional time.
The Nest Recovery House (Wilmington): The Nest Recovery House in Wilmington helps young women who are fighting to recover from addiction. The program offers housing that is away from triggers and temptations, and it encourages emotional, mental, physical and spiritual healing.
Operation GRACE (Portsmouth): Operation GRACE (Giving Relief to Area Children for Enrichment) was formed after its founder was inspired by DeWine's "Ideas in Motion" conference in 2017. The program focuses on collecting donated items such as toiletries, shoes, coats, and towels for children who are not receiving these essentials because their parents are suffering from addiction.
The "Ideas for Our Future" conference was the fifth installment of DeWine's "Ideas" conference series focusing on the impacts of the opioid epidemic in Ohio.