Pubdate: Mon, 16 Jan 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Sacha Pfeiffer


In a grim indicator of the toll the opioid crisis is taking on children, a
program is being launched in Massachusetts specifically to help newborns,
infants, and toddlers with addicted parents.

Health officials say they believe it's the first such early-intervention
program in the state to target these children, some of whom were born

The government-funded initiative will pay for weekly home visits to 36
low-income families in New Bedford, a South Coast community where the
number of children born with opiates in their bloodstreams is four times
the state average.

Part of the federal Early Head Start program, it will provide educational,
nutritional, and nursing services to children and their families, as well
as prenatal care and parental coaching. Families struggling with addiction
will receive preferential enrollment.

The goal is to reverse the damaging developmental effects that can result
from addiction and parental abuse or neglect, and ultimately end the
cascade of problems often passed from drug-abusing parents to children and

Much of the medication prescribed to animals is the same medication
prescribed to humans.

"This is an issue that affects generation after generation after
generation," said John Kelly, president of Meeting Street, a
Providence-based nonprofit that will run the program. "We look at this as
an opportunity to make sure it's not a multi-generational issue, because
you can halt it with this new child and make sure the child gets on the
right track."

With opioids now killing more than 130 people a month in Massachusetts,
and many hospitals inundated with nonfatal overdoses, children are often
collateral damage.

Some end up orphaned, living with relatives, or in foster care. Many are
born with an array of symptoms, such as birth defects and developmental
problems, that occur in babies exposed to opiates in the womb. Others are
spared physical or mental difficulties, but suffer the consequences of
neglectful parenting by mothers and fathers struggling with drug abuse.

To address the problem statewide, Governor Charlie Baker approved a
sweeping law last year that places tighter controls on opioids, but the
ripple effects of the ongoing crisis continue to affect countless

Those selected for the New Bedford program will receive an in-home visit
of at least 90 minutes each week from a member of Meeting Street's staff.
The organization is hiring five staffers for the program, including three
case workers, who will work with 12 families apiece. Home visits are
expected to begin next month.

Meeting Street also runs three schools and one early childhood center
where drug-affected families can receive services, but it says visiting
clients' homes allows a level of personalization not possible in a group

"With in-home visits, we're able to be more intimate with families and
really get to know their routines," said Casey Ferrara, director of early
intervention. "The beauty of being able to get into someone's home is that
we can see what's going on there and build up a trusting relationship."

During the visits, case workers will assess families' needs and connect
them with appropriate services, from social workers to educators to nurses
to disability specialists.

The program, paid for by a $324,000 federal grant distributed by the
Massachusetts Department of Public Health, will also give special
consideration to children suffering from abuse or neglect of any kind.

Still, Kelly said, "if you've got an opiate issue, you're going to go
right to the top of the list."
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