March 27, 2018 – The third and final meeting of this year’s Maine’s Children’s Caucus focused on the opioid epidemic in Maine and its effects on children and families here. We were grateful to hear from the following presenters: Nicole Chaplin – Associate Director, KVCAP’s Early Education and Child Services Program; Kevin Joyce – Cumberland County Sheriff; Mark Moran – LCSW, Family Service and Support Team Coordinator and Pediatric Forensic Clinic Coordinator at EMMS; and Nora Sosnoff – AAG, AG’s Division Chief for Child Protection
Mark Moran, Nora Sosnoff, and Nicole Chaplin
Nicole Chaplin presented on the current environment and complications for kids in Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Somerset County, which has high rates of teen pregnancy, homelessness, substance abuse, and other risk factors. In the preschool program for 3-5 year-olds, classrooms often have multiple children in DHHS custody, kids who have been born drug affected, or have parents who have been or are currently in drug recovery programs. It is a similar situation in the Early Head Start classrooms, with children 6 weeks-3 years-old. Frequently, children whose parents are in treatment programs are being raised by their grandparents. These Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have profound effects on these children, who often present with mental health issues that make it difficult for them to be successful socially and academically, or have diagnoses of special needs due to environmental factors from being born drug affected.
Kevin Joyce presented on the process and challenges of neonatal care due to opioid exposure. Overall, there has been an increase in maternal opiate exposures and in infants born to mothers on prescribed Methadone or Buprenorphine. This indicates that more addicted mothers are seeking and staying on treatment through use of those drugs, during their pregnancy. He also went over the inpatient and outpatient treatment programs for infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. The focus of that program is on weaning the infant, while also promoting and supporting breast feeding, weight gain, comfort of the infant, and support for the new mother.
Nora Sosnoff discussed how parental opioid addiction is a common thread in Maine’s child protective cases. Around half of the opioid overdose deaths occur in individuals ages 25-44 (primary childbearing age). The instances of drug-affected babies born in Maine has increased 5-fold in the past 10 years. By the time children are removed from homes, they have experienced real trauma (ACEs): lack of basic care, untreated health issues, developmental delays, toxic levels of stress. Unfortunately, the options for where these children can go are often not ideal, either: with relatives, in foster care, or other unstable caregiver situations.
Legislators present discussed with the panelists the complicated and interwoven issues with drug addiction and children in Maine, particularly regarding the opioid crisis. They ended with a discussion of what they could propose to do on a legislative level to address substance abuse, families in crisis, and children at risk in Maine.