Opinion: Churches can step up for victims of opioid crisis

Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Mothers and fathers. Sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters. There isn’t a day that goes by that someone in our country hasn’t succumbed to the escalating national opioid and drug crisis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 283 overdose deaths in Georgia in 1999, but 1,537 such deaths in 2017 – an increase of more than 500 percent. That obviously is causing immense pain and grief for more and more families.

But the untold victims are not just the adults who use drugs and destroy their lives. Often the children of these addicts are victimized by actions beyond their control. As a result of this escalating addiction crisis, we have more and more children now in foster care in Georgia and across our country who need loving homes and parents to raise them. Their moms and dads are either deceased, in jail, on the streets or otherwise unable to care for them.

With President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump scheduled to visit Atlanta Wednesday at the nation’s largest conference on drug abuse, it’s time for the faith-based community to take note and offer more foster homes for these children hurt by their parents’ actions.

Often these children have a traumatic childhood as their addicted mom or dad are mentally, emotionally or physically absent and often don’t help them with routine care from laundry to feeding or bathing.

In 2014, there were 7,600 Georgia children in foster care. As of April 1 there were 13,437 children in foster care, according to the state Department of Family and Children Services. DFCS says that 46 percent of those children placed in state custody last year had alcohol or drug abuse being a factor in the home. In Union County in North Georgia, for example, 86 percent of removals involved substance abuse.

Federal officials are overwhelmed with trying to combat this problem. State officials are doing a valiant job of managing the state’s child welfare infrastructure. But the real solution is going to come when more churches and the faith community step up and minister to these children in their own neighborhoods.

It’s easy to see that foster children are the orphans of the 21st century. As the Bible says, we have a duty to care for them. Some foster children haven’t had a regular meal, bedtime, bath or discipline since they were born.

There is no one better equipped than the faith community to alleviate the extreme pressures placed on DFCS, particularly the additional stresses from the drug crisis with the enormous caseloads of foster children.

FaithBridge Foster Care partners with 46 metro Atlanta churches such as North Point in Alpharetta, First Baptist of Woodstock and Mount Bethel United Methodist in Marietta to find children homes and support while DFCS provides oversight.

Those loving parents who do step up to foster make sure these kids progress physically, emotionally, academically and spiritually via their faith-based model. These parents keep these children safe, healthy and provide them love and comfort, as well as offer the structure which many crave, such as putting them on a schedule so they attend school and do their homework.

With the FaithBridge model, for example, churches can also offer a path to help restore the family of origin with life skills and even loving community support for parents struggling with addiction. Every kid wants a healthy mom and dad someday.

As we emerge from the Easter season, it’s important to note that if just a few families from every church would step forward to foster a child, it would make a significant contribution to the fallout from the drug and opioid crisis destroying so many Georgia lives.

Jackson is chairman and CEO of Jackson Healthcare. He is a former foster child and is chairman of the board of FaithBridge Foster Care.