Young Victims of the Opioid Epidemic


The 3-year-old girl couldn't describe her life in words. But her pretend play spoke volumes. One day, she picked up a baby doll, a purse, and a toy doctor's kit. She handed the last item to a nearby grownup and directed her to give a needle in exchange for play money from the purse. 

Another preschooler pretended to hide from the police. And a toddler made a point of not feeding a baby doll. 

Interrupted Childhood

More than 1,400 people died from drug overdoses last year in Virginia. For the past few years, more people have died each year from drug overdoses than car accidents.

But there are thousands of victims of the opioid epidemic who have never swallowed a pill or pierced their skin with a needle. In the wake of increased heroin and opiate use, more children have fallen victim to the neglect and trauma that can come with a parent’s addiction.

They have witnessed overdoses, drug deals, and prostitution. Some have gone days without eating. Some were born addicted to opiates. 

In the past fiscal year, we provided substance abuse services to 2,506 individuals. But we know that our treatment has impacted the lives of thousands of others, including children. 

Local departments of social services have seen rising numbers of children in foster care. Some have skyrocketed. Social workers removed many of those children from their homes because of a parent's dependence on opiates. 

This is a trend that plays out nationwide. Another rising trend: Grandparents raising their grandchildren. We have seen that trend throughout our program areas. 

How to Help

The numbers are staggering, and the facts depressing. But there are ways to help these children. 

Connect with Treatment

First of all, connect parents with resources for recovery. We offer substance use disorder services, including Medication-Assisted Treatment, which is one of the most effective methods for helping people overcome opioid dependence. 

For pregnant or parenting women struggling with substance abuse, our Project LINK program provides parenting groups, case management, resources, and other help. A new parenting group will start Jan. 18

The group will meet Thursdays from 12:30–2 p.m. at the Ronald W. Branscome Building, 600 Jackson St. in Fredericksburg. Lunch will be provided. Complimentary FRED bus tokens are available for women who need help with transportation.

The Nurturing Program for Families in Substance Abuse Treatment and Recovery focuses on attachment, child development, parent-child relationships and recovery. The curriculum is included on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.

Become a Foster Parent

Also, social service departments are struggling to find homes for children. To become a foster parent, contact your local department of social services:

  • Caroline Department of Social Services, 804/633-5071
  • Fredericksburg Department of Social Services, 540/372-1032
  • King George Department of Social Services, 540/775-3544
  • Spotsylvania Department of Social Services, 540/507-7898
  • Stafford County Department of Social Services, 540/658-8720

Become an Advocate

When children are removed from their homes, they become part of a complex court system. The Rappahannock Area Court Appointed Special Advocates program advocates for these children. The organization needs volunteers to help children who have been abused and/or neglected. 

The CASA program trains volunteers to examine the children’s circumstances and make recommendations to local judges about the children’s needs and whether they can safely live with their parents. 

CASA will train its next group of volunteers during a six-class session that starts Jan. 29, 2018. There will also be other opportunities for training

If you’d like to make a positive difference in the life of a child, please contact CASA at rappcasa@gmail.com or 540/710-6199.

Volunteers must be at least 21, have good interpersonal and communication skills, and be able to pass background checks and make at least a one-year commitment to helping a child.

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