LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – It’s an all too familiar reality for families across the country. Kids growing up in homes where their parents abuse drugs, often leading to children ending up in foster care and their parents in jail.
According to the Department of Children and Family Services, from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, more than 1,600 children in Arkansas were placed in foster care in part due to parental drug and or alcohol abuse.
Five years ago, Grayson Harvey never imagined her life could look like this. She is a new homeowner, a nursing student and, most importantly, a mom.
“I have the opportunity to build a life,” Harvey said.
It’s a life that drug addiction once threatened to destroy.
“It was a battle,” she said.
Harvey started using drugs when she graduated high school. She gave birth to a son, but the drug abuse didn’t stop.
“My child was in my way at that point. I wasn’t ready to be a mom,” she said. “I pretty much forgot that I had a child.”
Unable and unwilling to care for her son, Harvey did the only thing she could think of.
“I just gave my child to my parents, like that’s what I was supposed to do, and later on, eventually losing custody of him,” she explained.
She went on to have two more kids. Both were eventually adopted by her parents as Harvey’s drug use spiraled out of control.
“Each time I would get things back on track or get my own place and have a place for my children and do good for a little bit, then something would happen, and I would just fall back into that cycle,” she said. “It just got to the point where I could not be a mom.”
It’s a situation that sadly so many children and families experience. Dr. Cheryl May, director of the Criminal Justice Institute in Little Rock, said the number of drug endangered children, kids at risk of physical or sexual abuse and neglect due to their parents using illicit drugs, is growing.
“A lot a lot of these children grow up in these households and they think their life is normal,” May said. “Our opioid epidemic has not stopped. It has only gotten more advanced.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1 in 8 kids live in a household with a parent with a substance use disorder.
May said the most common drugs found in the home are marijuana, methamphetamine, alcohol, and opioids.
“We all have to understand we are models for our children, and they are going to mimic what we do,” she explained.
To combat the issue and keep kids out of foster care, May said the CJI, the Department of Children and Family Services and local law enforcement are working together. They’re sharing resources to get families the help they need, rather than split them up.
“I don’t think we are anywhere near close to getting a big handle on this, but I think trying to identify these kids early enough where we can provide some kind of intervention and services for them is critically important,” May said.
Today, Harvey is living a sober life and is rebuilding a relationship with her children.
“Now my kids come over and they spend the night and I just get to do mom things,” she said.
Her goal is to be an example for her kids and the mother they always needed.
“I know they are proud of me they have told me they are proud of me,” Harvey said. “Things have changed, and it’s all worked for the better, but it’s still not what they deserved.
While the opioid epidemic is impacting more families, DCFS said it has not seen a noteworthy increase in the percentage of children entering foster care due to their caregivers abusing drugs and alcohol.