Toddler survives addiction and finds new family
MISHAWAKA, Ind. -- The opioid crisis affects everyone. It affects an entire community. But perhaps one of the most impacted groups, are the children of addicts.
These innocent victims are affected in different ways. Some are born addicted to drugs, and struggle to thrive.
And more than half of children, currently in the Indiana Department of Child Services foster care system, are there because of substance abuse problems in their homes.
That number, continues to sharply rise, each year, making it hard for DCS to find these kids new homes.
"He loves trains," says Chrissy Green.
"Loves them. Anything trains," adds her husband, Darrin.
Maverick just turned four years old.
His mom and dad, like any other proud parents, can't help but to smile when they look at him.
"He gives you hugs all day long," says Chrissy.
He's their source of pride, and hard work.
It took the Green years, filled with worry and uncertainty, just to get him here.
"He is definitely a miracle baby," explains Chrissy.
A miracle, that all started with a phone call from DCS.
"She called one day and said, 'we have a newborn in the hospital. He has been born addicted to heroin...are you interested?' recalls Darrin.
Chrissy was the first to visit.
"I saw him all hooked up to the tubes. And saw all the wires. And then I held him," she remembers.
That moment changed the entire Green family forever.
"I was like, he doesn't have anybody. We have to. We have to do this," she explains.
And they did.
The Greens went to Memorial Hospital in South Bend every day, for over a month, to keep a close watch on their new foster child.
"I felt helpless for him," adds Darrin.
Mav's birth mother had used several drugs when she was pregnant.
He was born addicted to heroin and other drugs.
"It's not fair to him to have to suffer this way, because of a choice that an adult made," says Darrin.
Mav was born into this world, fighting just to survive in it.
"It took us ten months to get him clean," describes Chrissy. "Because he had other health issues that were mixed in there."
Today, he is nothing like the sick baby, that they first brought home to their two other adopted children.
Several different therapists worked with Mav, starting when he was four months old, to help him get on track of a typical toddler.
"When we look back at pictures now, we see the change more four years on, than we did then," says Darrin.
It's because of the Greens, that Mav is this cheerful, smiley toddler.
But it's also because of DCS foster care specialists, like Mary Ellen Hanback, who work tirelessly, just to make sure these children have homes.
"I believe Maverick's was the worst one we've seen, but we've seen a lot," says Hanback. "A lot of kids test positive at birth, but they're not necessarily addicted."
Mav's situation is not an anomaly.
15.7% of Hoosier children born in 2017, were born with opiates in their system.
That's compared to 10.7% of children, in the entire country.
With the opioid crisis, crushing the country, more and more children are being removed from their homes, and placed into foster care.
In 2013, when Maverick was born, 31.7% of children in Indiana's DCS foster care system, were removed because of substance abuse problems at home.
According to DCS, that number rose sharply in 2017.
Now, it's 58.1%.
"It's a harder addiction to deal with and our numbers have gone up," explains Hanback.
Those numbers are putting a strain on DCS, making it hard for specialists, like Hanback, to find them beds to sleep in for a night.
Hanback says there is a huge shortage of foster care parents in St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall, and Kosciusko counties.
"I mean, we haven't slept here with the children in the office, but we've come very close," she says simply.
In September 2017, there were 6,162 licensed DCS foster care homes in Indiana.
81 of those homes are in St. Joseph County.
67 in Elkhart County, 22 in Kosciusko County, and 15 in Marshall County.
"I've been doing this 17 years, and we used to average about 120 foster homes. So we're down," says Hanback.
Those shrinking numbers, are partly because families are just busier, she adds
But also because of the uncertainty that comes with taking in a child, from a drug-infested home.
"The addiction is a whole different ballgame. And the kids who are addicted, have huge needs," Hanback explains. "They need to be on methadone, they need to be held, they need to be nurtured. Like every child, but even more so."
The Greens had no idea what they were getting into.
But, they are thankful they weren't aware of just how difficult it would be.
"That was a blessing for both him and us. We may have though differently about it, if we knew," says Darrin. "I'm really glad we didn't be cause I can't imagine not having him."
It's the hardest job the Greens have ever had.
But it's one that they know, needs to be done.
"This opioid crisis is fairly new in the big picture. There's not enough research to really know, what life will be like for these kids five years down the road, or ten years down the road," says Darrin.
"When he's an adult, is he going to be more prone to addiction? We don't know," adds Chrissy.
Mav's story is just beginning.
He's one of the lucky ones, who now has a good family.
But it's because one of the 81 foster care homes in the county, took a chance.
"Was it a hard road? Yes, it was a hard road. It was probably the hardest thing we've ever done," says Darrin. "But would we do it again? In a heartbeat."
For more information about Indiana's DCS foster care system, click here.