North Alabama's Drug Addiction: Children impacted by parents’ abuse

In 2020, more than 3,300 kids were in the system. About 44 percent of those kids had a parent with a substance abuse issue.

Posted: Sep 16, 2021 5:15 PM
Updated: Sep 17, 2021 8:30 AM

Possibly the most devastating effect drug use has is its impact on children: whether it is newborn experiencing symptoms of withdrawal or a child killed by Fentanyl exposure.

While the number of kids in the foster care system affected by drug use is going down slightly, the number of reports DHR is receiving is also declining.

"They are definitely affected in a very negative way and a lot of times the cycle just continues,” Olivia Ikerd said.

Ikerd considers herself lucky. More than 10 years ago, she held two titles, mother and drug addict.

"Our kids will not get us sober, either,” Ikerd said. “I loved my children.”

Ikerd was not born into a cycle of addiction. After she started using drugs, her family took her kids, caring for them while she got clean.

However, that is not the case for a lot of addicts.

"A lot of these children, these women, their children are going into the foster care or the kids are being left with the grandparents,” Ikerd said. “A lot of times they use, so you know, the children aren't necessarily in a better environment."

According to the State Department of Human Resources, the number of children in the foster care system slightly dipped over the past three years.

In 2018, more than 3,800 kids entered into the system. Nearly 46 percent of those kids had a parent with a substance abuse issue.

In 2020, more than 3,300 kids entered into the system. About 44 percent of those kids had a parent with a substance abuse issue.

The number of child abuse and neglect cases reported also decreased last year. There were more than 26,000 reports in 2020, down about 2,000 from 2019.

DHR said the coronavirus pandemic caused a lot of kids to stay at home, away from schools, and people outside their household, who could report abuse and neglect if the children don’t themselves.

DHR also keeps a record of children who test positive for substances at birth. Those figures vary over the past three years.

Huntsville Hospital Pediatrician Stephanie Israel said she has not noticed a major spike in Huntsville, but the hospital will drug test every pregnant woman who comes in.

"They're affected by this, they're dependent on it because their mothers were dependent on it,” Israel said of the children.

But not every mother who tests positive for drugs is reported to DHR.

"It really depends on what the mom's story is,” Israel said.

Israel said mothers may be prescribed drugs that help their addiction, like Suboxone, and it is completely legal. However, if there are concerns, DHR will get involved. Israel said she never judges a mother.

She knows recovery can be long and a hard journey for both the mom and the baby.

"We're focused on keeping mothers and babies together in the rooms, having really increasing what we call non-pneumological management so that means management without drugs,” Israel said.

She has found by treating every mother with respect and encouragement, some choose to change.

"We have this little glimmer, we can take this moment, where we can make a difference,” Israel said.

For many mothers dealing with addiction, the decision to flip that switch comes with one goal in mind, being reunited with their children.

For Ikerd, she is thankful her sobriety did just that.

"Both of my kids are doing very well, they, I mean the blessings with my family, you know, those relationships have all been restored. I could go on and on about the blessings of getting sober and doing the work,” Ikerd said.

Ikerd now runs a recovery center in Florence. She takes pride in helping other mothers reunite with their kids. She said it is important they break the cycle of addiction and provide a drug-free life for those children.

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