Special Report: Fostering the Future

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Since the beginning, 10 On Your Side has been telling the stories of those impacted the most by the nation’s opioid epidemic. President Donald Trump has called the problem a public health emergency as record numbers die from the addiction.

The opioid crisis continues to plague the nation — and babies are the tiniest victims of this epidemic. The number of babies addicted has reached an unfortunate record, and because of that the foster care system is shouldering the burden. There are more babies than ever who need care.

One of those babies is a little boy who we are calling Little Prince, in order to protect the identity of he and his mother. Little Prince was born addicted to opioids and now lives in a Hampton Roads city with two mothers and a loving brother. His little life started with addiction to opiates, he’d scream and shake and tremor — a tiny human going through a giant amount of pain.

Christine Ethridge is Little Prince’s foster-mother.

“It immediately goes to being quiet to a high-pitched blood curdling scream and a startled scream. Uncontrolled. Nothing can console them. Nothing can help them,” said Ethridge. “I would never wish this on anyone, not on my worst enemy. You always worry about them, I worry about him at night [and] I don’t sleep well at night. He sleeps next to me in the bassinet [and] if I don’t hear the right breath, I’m up, I’m at hyper alert.”

However, Ethridge says skin-to-skin contact helps calm Little Prince down.

“So they can hear your heart beat and your breath of air on them to try and help regulate them,” said Ethridge.

Little Prince is Ethridge’s 13th foster child in three years but the first child in her care who was born addicted to opioids. In Virginia, the number of children exposed to drugs in utero increased 21 percent from last year. So far this year, more than 1,540 babies have been born addicted in the Commonwealth and roughly half are in the foster care system, according to the Virginia Department of Social Service.

The Up Center in Norfolk and employees like Heather Wilson help place the children in foster families.

“This is a crisis this is something that we would have once a year and in the last year we saw 5 children, which is leaps and bonds in the last few years,” said Wilson.

That number may not seem like all that much, however statewide in 2010 the number of youth in Virginia’s foster care due in part to parental drug abuse was 497. This year  that number is 787 children so far. Experts like Wilson say the opioid epidemic has increased that number dramatically and it could continue to worsen.

“I see the problem growing, yes,” said Wilson. “One case the kids were in a car and their parents overdosed. We have to start with the root of the problem coming back to the parents and the services that they need.”

There are services like southeastern family project in Newport news. In February, 10 On Your Side visited the program and spoke with biological mothers who are working to live a sober lifestyle with their families.

While Ethridge is not a biological mother, she’s spent the last six months raising her little prince.

“I do it because I love him as much as he loves me.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that Virginia has received a $9.76 million federal grant to help fight the opioid epidemic. More than 1,100 Virginians died last year from an opioid overdose.

This battle is not one you have to fight alone. There’s help:

Hampton Newport News Community Services Board  http://www.hnncsb.org/
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: https://www.samhsa.gov/
Southeastern Virginia Family Project: http://www.sefp.org
Virginia Opioid overdose and Naloxone Training: http://www.dbhds.virginia.gov/individuals-and-families/substance-abuse/revive
Virginia Department of Health: http://www.dbhds.virginia.gov/individuals-and-families/substance-abuse
Norfolk Substance Abuse Treatment Centers: http://www.addicted.org/norfolk-addiction-treatment-services.html
Virginia Beach Outpatient Treatment: http://www.newlifesabc.com/
Mental Health of Virginia Resources: http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/res-vatreatmentprograms.asp
Opiate Addiction and Resource Center: http://www.opiateaddictionresource.com/treatment/suboxone_treatment_directory/va_suboxone
Addiction Center Cost of Drug and Alcohol Addiction: https://www.addictioncenter.com/rehab-questions/cost-of-drug-and-alcohol-treatment/