LACONIA — The local office of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families had the biggest percentage increase in child abuse and neglect reports in New Hampshire over a three-year period, according to a research brief from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.
As the opioid epidemic has taken hold in New Hampshire, these reports increased 21 percent statewide from 2013-16, while the Laconia area registered a 37 percent increase, from 675 reports to 928 reports. Half of the local office’s 2016 reports included allegations of substance abuse.
Researchers totaled child abuse and neglect reports accepted for assessment at all 12 DCYF offices. The increase in Conway was 33 percent, Manchester had a 32 percent hike and Concord saw a 24 percent increase. The overall statewide number of these reports in 2016 was 11,197.
The Carsey School brief, written by Kristin Smith, tracks with state data showing Belknap County has among the highest per capita drug overdose death rate in a state that’s No. 3 nationally for this statistic.
For 2017, Belknap County had 3.48 drug overdose deaths per 10,000 population, second only to Hillsborough County with 3.81, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office.
“Hidden in the shadows of New Hampshire’s opioid epidemic are the children who live with their parents’ addiction every day,” Smith wrote. “They fall behind in school as the trouble at home starts to dominate their lives, they make the 911 calls, they are shuttled about to live with relatives or in foster care, and they face an uncertain future when their parents can no longer care for them.”
Smith also provided statistics showing the number of young people removed annually from parental care increased by 53 percent statewide between 2012 and 2016, from 358 to 547.
These children often are placed with grandparents or other family members.
“Grandparents raising grandchildren are under a lot of stress as they take on their new caregiver role and simultaneously grieve the plight of their adult child,” Smith said. “Support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren have begun forming throughout the state.”
Michelle Lennon, executive director of the Greater Tilton Area Family Resource Center and pastor of the Northfield-Tilton Congregational Church, is a certified recovery support worker who often sees the problem of parental substance use.
Some people begin their journey toward recovery for the first time when they are pregnant. Five percent of young people removed from parental care in 2016 were born drug-exposed, up from 2 percent in 2012, according to the Carsey research brief.
Substance abuse issues can make it hard for parents to bond with their children, harming a child’s emotional development.
“Opiates leave people feeling flat and lifeless and without the normal high you have from looking into a child’s face,” Lennon said.
Some people with drug dependency problems did not have an emotionally healthy childhood themselves and never had good parental role models.
Also, drug users may lack a good support network.
“They’ve burned their bridges with their old network and their regular network is unhealthy,” Lennon said. “You can’t ask your neighbor to babysit if your neighbor was using heroin with you.”
Lennon has experience with drug dependency in her own family. Her husband fell 40 feet from a roof eight years ago and became addicted to powerful prescription painkillers. He started using heroin before he went into recovery.
The painkiller-to-heroin path is something that has hurt a lot of people, many of childbearing age, experts report.
A total of 27 percent of the 2017 drug overdose deaths in the state involved people ages 30 to 39, the highest of any age group, the state Medical Examiner’s office said.
State Rep. Phil Spagnuolo Jr., D-Laconia, a founding member of Navigating Recovery in Laconia who recovered from a substance misuse problem himself, said there is a large number of people who began taking the Oxycontin painkiller a decade ago and are still struggling.
Children are often quite aware of their parents’ drug habits, he said.
“The more I speak to children I find they are really well educated on substances and know what these drugs look like as a direct result of seeing them in the home,” he said.
Spagnuolo said misconceptions persist concerning drug abuse.
“People get confused," he said. "They think somebody who is a drug addict is not a father, mother, teacher, lawyer, doctor, police officer, but in reality they can be all of those things.”
It’s heartbreaking when children are removed from parents.
“But it’s not all gloom and doom,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s important to know that there are people who are recovering and getting their children back.”
How to get help:
Navigating Recovery of The Lakes Region, 603-524-5939
Greater Tilton Area Family Resource Center, 603-286-4255
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 800-662-4357