OPIOID CRISIS: The impact on children
There’s a lot of focus on how opioid abuse affects adults but what about children?
Channel 3 spent some time with staff members and children at Bethel Bible Village in Chattanooga to try to shed some light on the epidemic’s youngest victims, including a 16-year-old who knows what it's like to grow up with a chaotic home life.
“Our mom always saw that what she was doing was wrong but she never stopped. She never tried until everything happened and then you can’t go back,” said the teen.
To protect her privacy, Channel 3 will refer to her as “Rachel.”
Rachel lived with both parents until she was seven years old and her dad died.
Rachel recalls what it was like at that age having a mother with a drug problem.
“I remember in preschool mostly because she would take us out to get on the bus and sometimes we’d get off and we’d have to wait at the bus stop for her. She didn’t want us to walk but it would be 30 to 45 minutes before she even came. My older brother started taking on the role of making sure we got home,” said Rachel.
Rachel was taken from her home about a year after her dad died. She moved in with her grandmother but tried to maintain a relationship with her mom.
“She would call and say she was going to pick us up for the day and we’d wait all day and she wouldn’t come. The next day she would call and say she was so sorry she couldn’t make it but promise to come today and it was the same thing every day,” said Rachel.
Rachel had to endure more heartache when she was 15 when her grandmother died. She was shuffled to two more homes before eventually coming to Bethel Bible Village, a place for families in crisis.
Social worker, Trisha Tatum, helps Rachel and other girls at Bethel work through the trauma they’ve endured.
“A lot of times they take on their own guilt of the situation. They may have not had anything to do with the situation but they feel guilty because their parents are gone or are struggling or they think they’re a burden on the people taking care of them,” said Tatum.
Approximately 62,000 children in Tennessee are living with grandparents or other family members. Nearly 40-percent of the children that Bethel serves are coming from relative caregiver situations. The opioid epidemic is fueling some of that growth.
“Many times the grandparents have been the fun people in a child’s life and so then suddenly the children come into their home and they have to become the disciplinarian and make them go to school and do their homework and go to bed. Sometimes the child is coming out of an abuse or neglect situation and have behavioral and emotional issues and so they act out and then it becomes a struggle between the grandparents and the child,” said Bethel Bible Village CEO Rosalind Conner.
The goal at Bethel is to reunite children with their biological parents or families. Rachel remains close with her siblings and says Bethel Bible Village has provided stability for her.
“She is very resilient. She has a lot of strengths that she plays into. She’s great at school. She loves to care for people. She’s really one of the stronger people in her family system and she has really thrived at Bethel. She’s taken advantage of all of the opportunities we’ve given her. She’s worked through some therapeutic services. She’s done really, really well,” said Tatum.
Rachel has a passion for helping others and wants to become a nurse.
“I can apply for scholarships because my grades are better. I can get into college. I don’t have to worry about all of the bills to pay for college because now I can earn a way,” said Rachel.
Her circumstances haven given her strength and she is giving others hope.