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The Unseen Victims of America’s Opioid Epidemic: Youth in Out-of-Home Care

Being safe is about being seen and heard and allowed to be who you are and to speak your truth.

  • –– Rachel Naomi Remen

When Lisa Marie Basile was in high school, she purposely didn’t make friends. She crafted an image of “happy,” despite the secret that weighed on her every day. “I felt invisible, but I didn’t try to fight it,” Lisa wrote (“A Foster Child of the Opioid Epidemic,” The New York Times, November 24, 2017).

Her source of shame? Lisa was living with foster parents, and her younger brother was with a different foster family. Their parents were both addicted to opioids. “I felt dirty, worthless and consumed by fear,” Lisa said. When some of her classmates found out she was living with strangers, they wrote her off as a “freak.”

Sadly, Lisa’s situation is not unique. Consider these facts:

  1. The number of children living in foster care has risen from a modern-day low of 397,000 in 2012 to 437,000 in 2016. The mean age of a child entering foster care is 7.
  2. Parental substance use saw the largest increase among 15 reasons states can report for the circumstances associated with a child’s removal from the home. Approximately 92,000 children were removed from their home in 2016 because at least one parent had a substance use problem.
  3. Out-of-home placements also include the 2.5 million children nationwide being raised by grandparents and other relatives.
  4. A baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes.

But numbers only tell part of the story. Children growing up in foster care are subject to a host of physical and mental health conditions. And some, like Lisa, keep their problems to themselves, feeling they have no one to confide in.

That’s why Mental Health First Aid partnered with the National Foster Parents Association and its Council of State Affiliates to add a foster care focus to the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum. The Mental Health First Aid foster care-specific scenarios highlight common situations to help foster care, kinship and adoptive parents respond effectively to a youth’s often silent needs.

By the time she graduated high school, Lisa’s mother was clean. Lisa eventually reconnected to her father, and she went on to earn an MFA and found an online literary magazine. Yet, she writes about a “space inside me that it still filled with shame, embarrassment, fear, anger [and] resentment.”

Lisa says she was lucky – she credits her foster parents with showing unwavering compassion. Now foster families have more than compassion to offer. With Mental Health First Aid, they truly can #BeTheDifference in a young person’s life. Start your journey today.

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