The news offers daily reminders of the complex challenges our communities, state and country face in the opioid crisis. Governor Eric Holcomb made attacking the drug epidemic a pillar of his inaugural policy agenda. Indiana University has announced its Grand Challenge to respond to the addictions crisis, committing $50 million to finding solutions. Indiana’s social service, emergency service, criminal justice, health care, and public health providers are working to respond to the relentless array of ongoing, interconnected needs arising from the crisis. Collaborations among local, state and federal agencies are developing new cross-cutting partnerships and interventions. At the Indiana Youth Institute, we are concentrating on identifying and addressing the short- and long-term consequences of the opioid crisis on Hoosier children.
For the past three years the number of children in Indiana’s foster care system has increased steadily. Experts, including Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of the Indiana Department of Child services, agree these increases are directly linked to the opioid problem.
“We have more children in care than we’ve ever had in history, nationwide and in Indiana, Bonventura said. “With all cases counted, (we have) close to 29,000 kids in care in some way shape or form.”
In 2016, 52 percent of children DCS removed from a home were removed due to parental substance abuse. When substance abuse is included as a secondary cause, that rate rises to nearly 80 percent.
Who cares for the kids caught in this crisis? In Whitley County, 2 percent of children live with foster parents, and 6.2 percent of children live with their grandparents. Bonaventura states in Indiana nearly 51 percent of all DCS foster care placements are with relatives. A September 2017 Pew Charitable Trusts study shows parents of adult children who either struggle with substance use disorder, or have died from an overdose, are raising an increasing number of their grandchildren.
Child placements with relatives, also called kinship care, can be a formal placement from the state or an informal arrangement between the parents and the relative caregivers. In fact, the Pew research estimates that for every foster child formally placed with a relative as a primary caregiver, there are 20 more in informal kinship arrangements. Tina Cloer, president and CEO of Children’s Bureau, Inc., says “I get calls all the time from people all over the city and state who have now inherited their nieces and nephews, their grandchildren, their friends’ kids, because they’re struggling with addiction.”
About 39 percent of grandparents caring for grandchildren are older than 60, 21 percent live below the poverty line and 26 percent have a disability. Like all children in care, children in kinship care have been found to lack adequate access to primary care, immunization, vision, hearing and dental care services. Despite these challenges, the American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the benefits of kinship care, including increased stability and well-being, reduced trauma, and an increased likelihood that siblings will stay together.
We can help grandparents and family members caring for these young victims of our state’s addiction crisis. Kinship care is often unexpected and unplanned. Many families are unaware of available help. For instance, grandparents and families who become licensed foster families can access services and financial supports. Organizations such as Grandfamilies.org provide valuable information on applicable laws and resources. Cloer works with many faith-based and community groups that are reaching out to grandparents caring for their grandchildren with basic needs items such as diapers, formula and clothing. As employers, we can offer flexible schedules for those suddenly faced with caring for these children. Schools and youth organizations also need to be sensitive to kinship care arrangements.
Any comprehensive solution to Indiana’s opioid crisis must include the impacted children and family members. Most child welfare experts agree that an increased focus on the impacts on the youngest victims is warranted. While we look for policy and systems change at the state level, at the local level we can immediately step in to help families providing kinship care. Actions taken now can help prevent this crisis from lasting into the next generation.
For more information on the impact of opioids on children, see IYI’s Issue Brief on the opioid epidemic’s impact on Hoosierchildren.
Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to promote the healthy development of Indiana children and youth by serving the people, institutions and communities that impact their well-being.
Download data on children in foster families and children living with grandparents.
It is the time of year when many of us plan big family meals, decorate our homes and start holiday shopping. At the same time, we have all heard the phrase “it’s better to give than to receive.” So amidst the holiday hustle and bustle, how do we teach our children to go beyond consumerism to focus on gratitude and the needs of others?
November is National Philanthropy Month, so now is the perfect time to engage our children in community service. Not only will recipients of the service or donation benefit, but participation in civic engagement also offers clear benefits to kids.
Philanthropy both facilitates and fosters youth development, says Jill Gordon, program director of the Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana. Research shows that community service can help young children develop feelings of empathy for others. These can be simple interactions. Donating food or outgrown clothing increases the ability of children under ten to understand the experiences and needs of others. Volunteerism among teens is linked to lower rates of drug use and pregnancy, and teen volunteers are more likely to have stronger academic outcomes and lower risks of suicide. Research also shows that kids involved in community service grow into adults who typically have a stronger work ethic, continue to volunteer and have higher voting rates.
Child Trends, a leading child research institution, found teen volunteerism rates have increased in recent years. More than a third of high school seniors report volunteering at least once a month. Rates are higher in youth planning to attend college, and female students are more likely to volunteer than males, with the gender gap growing between eighth, 10th and 12th grades. Within Indiana, 43.2 percent of children ages 6 to 17 volunteered in 2016, placing us at the national average but slightly below rates in neighboring states.
Youth philanthropy is as diverse and unique as children themselves. More than a decade ago The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis started the Power of Children Awards to showcase kids who make a difference in their communities. From helping seniors access email, to increasing educational opportunities for girls in India, to supporting children undergoing cancer treatment, the efforts and impact of these young philanthropists is nothing short of amazing. The one consistent factor in these kids’ dedication, says Debbie Young, director of volunteer services with the Museum, is that they are driven by something that has impacted their lives. They identify, engage, and/or design projects that hold special meaning for them.
Nonprofit organizations and schools can spark kids’ interest by showing young people how to translate their passions and skills into action. Gordon suggests we actively talk to children about community needs and the impact nonprofits have within their community and state. Many community organizations offer family volunteer options, allowing parents and children to serve side-by-side.
Community foundations across Indiana actively engage young leaders, and countless school groups coordinate giving and service opportunities. For example, the Dekko Foundation, based in Kendallville, has a long tradition of engaging teens, placing value on meaningful philanthropic opportunities at home, school and within the community. Above all, experts advise that young people have a voice in and ownership of their commitment.
Teaching children the value of civic engagement and volunteerism often starts at home. Parents can help children as young as three learn the behaviors and attitudes associated with community service – the ideas of caring and sharing. Elementary students often start basic giving and service projects through faith-based and afterschool programs, such as the Scouts. We should talk to middle school children about their place in their community, including direct paths for impact. By high school, students can understand complex problems, including ways they can contribute to solutions. At each age, parents and family members serve as crucial role models for giving back.
Like many of the skills we teach our children, philanthropy takes practice. Yet with benefits such as increased confidence, improved collaboration skills, and a greater sense of community, training our children to serve has great rewards. During this period of thankfulness and beyond, we can all embody the spirit of Hoosier hospitality by teaching our children to take care of our neighbors, our communities and our world.
(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)
Additional Resources: Youth Philanthropy Initiative of Indiana’s A Path to Growing Lifelong Philanthropists
Youth are the hidden victims of the opioid epidemic.
Nationally, the issue has grown so severe that in 2017, the Commission on Combatting Drug Abuse and the Opioid Crisis submitted a letter to the president requesting that the opioid crisis be declared a national emergency. In Indiana, there were 1,271 deaths from drug overdoses in 2016, a 33% increase from 2011. Drug overdoses have risen so sharply in Indiana that they now kill more Hoosiers than car crashes and gun homicides combined.
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Employment can be a valuable opportunity for youth.
In addition to the immediate benefits of earning a paycheck, employment experiences can deepen understanding of a young person’s dreams and career interests, facilitate conversations about financial literacy, teach important workplace skills, and provide opportunities to learn about responsibility, time management, and good work habits.1, 2 Employing youth also provides benefits to the hiring entity, such as the development of a strong talent pipeline.
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