Epidemic puts Indianapolis Children in Crisis

Posted on April 14th, 2015

Little_girl_by_Eileen9Among those hit hardest by the region’s escalating heroin crisis are the children of parents lost in a haze of addiction. It’s putting their health, safety and futures at risk. It cannot be tolerated. This article comes from our friends and the Indianapolis Star. It is the true story of what happens daily in Juvenile Court and to the 5,000 children we represent each year.

If anyone still questions whether we need to tackle the region’s heroin epidemic in a stronger way, the answer can be found in Marion County Juvenile Judge Marilyn Moores’ courtroom.

In there, the growing heroin crisis is on display almost every day. It plays out in the cruelest possible way — one that makes you want to scream at the unfairness that has been dropped on so many of this city’s children. “I’d call it a tsunami,” Moores said, just before calling down her first case Wednesday afternoon, “but I don’t think that would do it justice. It’s a plague on our community.”

The truest, most innocent victims of the crisis rarely appear before Moores; they’re usually in school or at home with Grandma when court is in session. But they are at the heart of the cases she hears, and their stories come out in the sad tales of their parents — broken men and women who are lost in a haze of addiction so fierce that they’ve in many cases put the need to feed that addiction ahead of their responsibility to feed and protect their own children.

As Moores sat in her black judicial robe Wednesday, a long afternoon of heartbreaking cases in front of her, a brown-haired 27-year-old woman who could pass for 16 took a seat about five feet away. The woman stared straight ahead and sat with her chin planted firmly atop her right fist as Moores asked if she wanted a lawyer.

“I don’t think I need one,” the woman said, “because I believe I am guilty.”

This, though, was not a criminal case but rather one to decide whether the heroin-addicted woman was capable of caring for a 4-year-old son the Department of Child Services had recently removed from her custody. The case was another example of the horrific circumstances so many children in Indianapolis endure, and of the almost incomprehensible experiences many have even before they learn to write their first names.

This might sound cold-hearted, but the woman’s DCS case file made me want to jump up in court and beg her to give her child permanently to someone who could save him. It’s a file filled with tales of a young mother who would leave her child with others for hours at a time so she could shoot up, of a young boy who wasn’t always regularly fed and who rarely had the security of living in the same place for long. It quoted the 4-year-old saying his mom “puts medicine in her arms” and that he’d recently been told to leave a room “so her friend could put the medicine in her arm.”

That’s what a 4-year-old boy said about his own mom. That’s why I hugged my own 4-year-old hard when I got home Wednesday after court. That’s why everyone needs to understand we are at a moment of crisis that must be met with action and resources. And although the woman disputed some of her son’s own words, she did tell Moores that, “When we were staying in hotels with his father, yes, he did see Daddy stick needles in his arm.”

For Moores, this is what she sees almost daily: heroin-addicted parents who are putting their children at risk. This issue, she said, “is the single biggest factor” behind an alarming increase of late in the number of Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases. She called the worsening epidemic “a scourge on our community,” before asking the 27-year-old mother if she’d like to enter an inpatient treatment program.

“I need help,” the woman said, as tears welled up and ended what had been a hard fight to remain composed. With track marks on her arms, and despite years spent abusing other drugs, she said heroin’s grip had hit her in a more powerful way than she could have ever imagined. “I would never let anything get to me like this,” she said. “Never.”

But she did, as have thousands of others across the region. The damage has been felt by health officials who have urged the state to respond more forcefully, by hospitals that have reported an increase in the number of newborns addicted to opiates, and by public safety officials who’ve seen a sharp increase in heroin-related crimes and overdoses. And, of course, by children whose stories make you want to cry.

Moores recently oversaw a case of a 6-year-old girl and her 9-year-old brother who’d found their mom and her boyfriend passed out early one February morning. The children tried to wake the two adults for several minutes, shaking them and ringing an alarm clock near their ears. They debated whether to call 911, fearing their mom, who has an extensive criminal history, would be mad if police showed up.

The children ultimately made the call, and paramedics noted that upon their arrival the parents “were turning blue and their bodies were cold.” They survived and later admitted to snorting heroin that morning, as their children slept nearby.

For the children, this was a school day.

That’s what some of our children endure. That is the type of baggage so many of them carry with them each day. That’s the level of disruption and dysfunction polluting many of their lives. That is why state legislators, mayoral candidates and the rest of us need to support efforts to better take on this epidemic.

“We need help,” Moores said, telling me that the county needs more people to serve as foster parents and court-appointed advocates for children, in addition to more funding for child abuse prevention programs, drug treatment and mental health services.

Later, Moores turned her attention to a couple whose story should have stunned me but tellingly did not. The man and woman, both addicted to heroin, are the parents of two young children. The 37-year-old father had overdosed three times in the previous two weeks, once while his children were in the house.

“Somewhere along the line you guys decided to party with opiates and that is how you got to where you are,” the judge said. “Now you are going to have to choose between heroin and your children. It is that simple.”

The couple, at least for now, have lost their parental rights. It’s hard to imagine a worse sentence. Still, neither said a word in court to suggest they were ready and willing to truly fight against their addiction or for their kids.

The heroin epidemic is real in Central Indiana and among its many victims are children who have done nothing wrong. They have not made one choice or one decision that has put them in such a devastating situation. They are innocent.

They need our help. They need their community and their state to fight for them, even if their parents cannot.