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Children in Cincinnati Experience Parental Loss At Higher Rate Than National Average

Children here are experiencing a parent’s death or incarceration at alarming rates, a new survey shows, in what appears to be, in part, another symptom of the opioid epidemic.

On Friday, Interact for Health, a nonprofit community health advocate and funder, released the results of the 2017 Child Well-Being Survey, taken by more than 2,700 parents and guardians in a 22-county swath of Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana.

It found:

  • Nearly 15 percent of children in the area have a parent who has been jailed. That compares to 8 percent nationwide.
  • About 8 percent of the region’s children had a parent or guardian die – compared to 3 percent nationwide.

“While this survey doesn’t tell us why, substance abuse is a likely contributor,” said Sonya Carrico, senior program officer for the opioid team at Interact for Health. “Our region has some of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the nation, many among adults age 25 to 44, and the percentage of youth in foster care due to parental substance abuse is on the rise.”

Adult holding child

In a more local indicator of the epidemic’s impact on kids, 30 percent of the children in custody of Hamilton County Job and Family Services were removed from their homes because they had a parent addicted to drugs.

Maureen Sharib of Mount Lookout, who is raising her granddaughter, Brianna, is convinced that the survey results are related to Greater Cincinnati’s opioid crisis.

“The epidemic’s toll is hard to measure, but these numbers have to be considered every time you hear an ambulance passing or see one parked in the street,” said Sharib. “Just about every time you see that, there are children involved.”

“Innocent children standing by, watching the horror of what’s happening to the people who are most important to them in their lives,” Sharib said. “There is no taking that away – ever. There is no bandage that can salve those wounds.”

Her daughter, Natalie Bauer, died Jan. 29, 2017, from an overdose after a long battle with addiction. She had fentanyl and Xanax in her bloodstream.

Brianna is 10, and has been living with her grandmother since she was 15 months old. Sharib’s sister, Peggy Bartl, has custody of Brianna’s brother, 5-year-old Jaxon.

Young boy against garage

The Child Well-Being Survey included other questions about issues that could trigger trauma in children and might have an impact on their future mental and physical health. Losing a parent to death or incarceration are just a couple of such factors, which researchers call Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACES.” 

“When children experience prolonged, intense, frequent stress, their bodies may respond to elevated stress hormone levels in ways harmful to their growth and development,” explained Dr. Robert Shapiro, director of the Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

While he did not tie the survey’s findings directly to the epidemic, Shapiro said, “An example of this type of stressful experience includes when parents are deeply affected by opioid use.”

Carrico noted that some children have even witnessed a parent’s overdose, fatal or non-fatal, and others have had basic needs, such as shelter, food or clothing, neglected by parents who are in the throes of addiction.

But the exposure to such frightening experiences doesn’t always lead to poor health outcomes, Shapiro said.

“We can prevent these harmful effects by building supportive communities, by promoting strong caring relationships with adults and by strengthening a child’s social and emotional skills.”

Brianna and Jaxon are surrounded by nurturing family and carefully chosen activities to support them as they grow.

“We keep them involved in school activities, we closely monitor their scholastic progress with their teachers,” Sharib said. “We try to expose them to nature – no, actually we thrust them into nature – nature camps, horseback riding, swimming lessons, pool memberships – all that.”

“Both children see psychologists,” their grandmother added.

But Sharib noted that a lot of people who are caring for children of the epidemic don’t have the financial stability to provide the same level of activities and care.

And the survey results show that more of the children who are impacted by a parent’s death or incarceration have families whose incomes fall below the national poverty line.

 The Child Well-Being Survey included other issues that can traumatize children, as well. With most of these issues, the area’s region fared similarly to children nationwide.

About 23 percent of the region’s children have a parent who has divorced, compared to about 25 percent nationwide, for example.

Most parents and guardians here say the children living in homes in excellent to good condition and rated the homes in their neighborhoods from good to excellent. The responses varied by location, with respondents from the city of Cincinnati giving lower ratings.

Interact for Health, which advocates for and funds community health initiatives in the area, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center funded the research with support from the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. The University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research conducted the research.

A random sample of 2,757 adult caregivers was interviewed from March 5-Aug. 9, 2017. Researchers said that, in 95 of 100 cases, the estimates are accurate to plus or minus 1.9 percent.

To see the full report, visit Interactforhealth.org/child-well-being-survey.

To learn more about how to fight childhood adversity, visit Joining Forces for Children online.

Original article here posted on thecincinnatienquirer.com published August 3rd, 2018.

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