Written by John Jarvis The Marion Star
Bethani Temple spent 20 days in jail after she crashed a car while stoned on heroin. She hasn’t used for 31 months. Her husband was in prison for a year on drug-related charges. He’s been clean for 19 months.
On a recent afternoon, their 2-year-old daughter, Cambree, and their 1-year-old son, Benton, smile and giggle as they play with each other and intermittently bounce in and out of moms arms in a whirlwind of energy. Dads at work.
“I worry about them becoming addicted,” Temple said, sitting in the living room of the family’s Prospect home where the siblings ignore a cartoon playing on the television. “My husband and I being addicts leads them to a really, really high chance of becoming addicted. I think the biggest way to prevent that is to educate them, asking questions my parents didn’t know they needed to ask.”
The Temples were part of an upward trend in the number of children being placed outside the custody of their immediate family because of parental drug abuse, Jacqueline Ringer, Marion County Children Services director, said. Cambree was placed in the temporary custody of her paternal grandmother while her mother was in jail and her father was in prison.
“We actually track our reasons for child removal,” Ringer said. “Drug abuse has always been one of our top reasons. We saw sharp increases starting in 2010, and it continued in 2011and 2012.” Parental drug abuse was the leading cause for 120 Marion County children to be removed from their homes and placed in safe environments last year.” Cambree tested positive for drugs at birth, Ringer said, a fact the 28-year-old Temple volunteered, saying, “When I had her, she had heroin in her system. It gave me an open case with children services.”
On Thanksgiving Day 2010, Cambree was in a safety seat in the back of the car her mother fell asleep driving on Silver Street while high on heroin. Temple drove the car across North Prospect Street and crashed it. “I don’t remember anything,” she said. “I woke up to the cops and the squad.” She said she was charged with having physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence, a first-degree misdemeanor, along with possession of drug abuse instruments and child endangerment. Marion Municipal Court records show she pleaded no contest to the charge of having physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence, and was ordered to complete a court-approved program of alcohol counseling and not consume or possess any alcoholic beverage, drugs or drug paraphernalia and not operate a motor vehicle without a valid license.
After she was charged, but before she went to jail, she continued injecting heroin four to eight times a day, using one-half gram to a gram in each 24-hour period. She said during her 20 days in jail where she had to talk to her 2-month-old daughter through glass at visiting time she realized she wanted to stop her drug use, and voluntarily entered Marion County Family Dependency Court.
“Julie (McGinniss) drug-tested me 15 times in my first eight days out of jail,” she said, smiling as she referred to the dependency court coordinator and adding she was clean every time. “I haven’t used since I got out of jail, Dec. 28, 2010.”
“We placed her daughter with her grandparents while Bethani worked on her addiction,” she said. “She’s sober and strong, and we’re very happy for her.”
Children in danger
Ringer worries about other children whose parents use drugs and continue to put their children’s lives in danger because of their own addiction.
“The big thing for me when it comes to substance abuse is that a child’s safety, stability and basic needs oftentimes are unmet while the parent struggles to meet their own needs, and that’s what happens,” she said. “When a parent’s on drugs, they’re not intending to harm their children, but addiction has such a hold on them it becomes a need for them. It could be just a lack of knowledge or skill or resources, but I do know Marion is suffering from a heroin epidemic, and children are suffering because of it.”
Working as an elementary guidance counselor and mental health counselor at four Marion City Schools buildings, Elizabeth Claborn encounters the problem regularly as she speaks to a range of children from kindergarteners through adolescents.
“What I hear about the most is domestic violence,” Claborn said. “My guess is (it’s) underlying drug and alcohol abuse, but that’s an assumption;” finding out for sure can be difficult “because kids protect their parents.”
She said one kindergarten student told her he sat on the floor of the family’s house over a trapdoor to the basement where his father was hiding while police were looking for him on drug-related charges.
“Oftentimes I’ll hear, “Mom and dad are fighting again. I couldn’t sleep because mom and dad were fighting,”” Claborn said. “We do talk about at what point do you call 9-1-1, if you see blood, if you see things flying, so they have a safety plan and know what to do. I’ve had some tell me they’re told to sweep up the glass after a fight. I can’t imagine drugs and alcohol aren’t involved in some of that. So who knows whether we’re talking about a 12-pack or a syringeful? And I’m glad the kids don’t know.”
She said she’s directed parents who’ve acknowledged that they’re drug users to treatment facilities, adding that she’s noticed heroin use has been a significant problem for about eight years. “It’s really gotten bad in the last two to four years,” she said.
Loss of family
Insufficient space in suboxone treatment programs reduces the number of parents and nonparents who seek help in breaking their heroin habit, she said.
“You’ve got people ready to kick it finally, and they can’t get in,” she said. “You’ve got to catch them when they’re ready.”
Meanwhile, children live in homes where one or both parents are in jail because they’ve been convicted of drug charges.
“Parents are fighting, police are in and out of the house, but obviously the root of it being all the drugs, not knowing whether ‘mom is going to be home when I get home from school,'” she said. “I’ve had kids who were afraid to go to school because they didn’t know if mom would be home when they got back.”
She said she’s seen parents’ drug addictions break the spirits of their children.
“At a certain point, the third-, fourth- or fifth-grade age when it’s still going on I see them sort of checking out, a kind of apathy going on,” she said. “They lose that resiliency, where it seems like nothing’s going to change. I’ve seen them cynical as early as fourth grade.”
Sometimes the result is children are moved to the homes of grandparents, who try to raise their children’s children. Situations in which well-meaning grandparents are raising grandchildren can create an additional loss of a family relationship for the child, she said.
“Grandparents raising the kids is not good because the grandparents can’t be grandparents, they can’t spoil them, they have to discipline them, deal with the tantrums,” she said. “They can’t be the grandparents.” The children lose not only the child-parent relationship, but also the child-grandparent relationship, she said.
Stopping the cycle
Marion County Children Services removed 120 children from their homes in 2012, placing 48 of them with extended family or friends and 72 in foster care, Ringer said.
“It’s one of our leading family conditions that our families experience, in the top three,” she said, listing those conditions as single-head-of-household, economic problems and substance abuse. “Drug abuse has always been one of our top conditions. We saw sharp increases starting in 2010, and it continued in 2011 and 2012.”
The drugs for which parents most commonly tested positive in 2012 were opiates, marijuana and cocaine, in that order, she said.
“What I believe is because of drug abuse by the parent we saw that sharp increase … in 2012,” she said, and expressed her concern for children of those addicted people. “I feel younger children are more vulnerable. They can’t speak, they can’t remove themselves out of a situation, they can’t contact law enforcement. They’re completely subjected to the environment their parents provide.”
She said her agency also is seeing an increase in the number of newborn infants testing positive for drugs or suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
“We see children in dirty and unsafe environments, heroine needles within the children’s reach,” she said. “We’re also seeing lack of supervision, a parent who is incapacitated while providing care for a child.”
The potential of creating a vicious cycle of drug use from parent to child is a long-range concern for such people, she said.
“I am concerned because we tend to parent how we were parented,” Ringer said. “Of course, I’m concerned about that in the future, but I’m more about living in the now, the trauma these children are experiencing.”
Having eliminated immediate concerns about her children’s safety by ending her drug use of eight years, Temple has a strategy for attempting to head off any imitation by their daughter and son of the addiction from which she and her husband are recovering.
“I think the biggest way to prevent that is to educate them, asking questions my parents didn’t know they needed to ask: If it’s been offered? If they’ve heard about it? What they know? The biggest thing a parent can do is ask questions they need to ask, because it can lead to (addiction),” she said. “I don’t want to tell them our stories because they may think, ‘Well, they got through it.’ I don’t want them to put a glorified picture on it, because the reality is we both should have died, and we didn’t.”
Temple recently completed her associate’s degree in applied sciences and human and social services at Marion Technical College, and works for Family & Children First Council in Crawford County. Her long-range objective is to help others who suffer from drug addiction. Hers has been a success story, Ringer said. It began at age 18 when she took all of the pain pills in her father’s medicine cabinet after he died from cancer. She moved on to heroin when she found out it was cheaper. It came to a climactic turning point when with her daughter in the back seat she crashed her car. Clean and sober, she continues to work on the happily ever after.