Havens Sought for `New Orphans' Institutional Homes Appear Increasingly Necessary for the Children of Drug-Addicted Parents. SOCIAL WELFARE

By Clara Germani, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 1990 | Go to article overview

Havens Sought for `New Orphans' Institutional Homes Appear Increasingly Necessary for the Children of Drug-Addicted Parents. SOCIAL WELFARE


Clara Germani, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


WHEN the nation's highest anti-drug official, William Bennett, made the observation this spring that orphanages and youth camps might be an alternative to drug-plagued homes and neighborhoods, the social-welfare community shuddered.

But the crack-cocaine epidemic, which for many drug-dependent women has overwhelmed the mothering instinct, has severely altered the terms of the child-welfare debate by causing unprecedented increases in the numbers of children in state care.

Prominent policymakers, educators, and child-welfare experts are reconsidering the politically untouchable concept of institutionalization for children, even if they are embarrassed by the frank terms used by Mr. Bennett.

While the traditional Dickensian porridge-and-dormitory orphanage is hardly on the agenda, de facto orphanages exist already because the foster-care system cannot keep up with the numbers of "new orphans" of crack-cocaine-addicted parents.

Group homes modeled on the intimate and caring terms dictated by modern psychology, called "congregate care" facilities, are cropping up around the country to shelter the young children that the strained, traditional foster-care system cannot accommodate. And, experts in the field agree, these kinds of facilities will play a growing role in child welfare services in years to come.

Some, like Sandra Feldman, president of New York City's 100,000-member local United Federation of Teachers union, have proposed rural public boarding schools to take older children - both wards of the state as well as those whose parents want them to have a safer environment - away from the influences of the inner-city drug environment. Ms. Feldman also has proposed that the state create dormitories at public schools.

Crack addiction among parents has increased so rapidly that "we don't really have the systems in place to prevent problems or to deal with them," says Cheryl Hayes, executive director of the National Commission on Children, a bipartisan panel appointed by Congress and the President to propose policies to improve American childhood.

"There are an enormous number of people who 10 years ago would have wrung their hands over this (concept gaining acceptance) but who today, because of drug use and the lack of foster-care resources and the lack of help for parents to overcome addiction, are really having to (reconsider institutional care)."

Crack-addicted women often abandon their children at birth in hospitals, or leave them with family members, or simply completely neglect them if they do keep the children. Often, because of their own drug-induced paranoia, irritation, and frustration, they violently abuse children.

Howard University Hospital in Washington, for example, has a constant dozen or so "boarder babies" living there in legal limbo because they were abandoned at birth by drug-abusing mothers. The average stay is six months for these infants, who do not require hospital care but can't leave until legal custody is settled. One infant even lived there for the first 467 days of its life.

"I see a lot of kids abused and neglected in the care of drug addicts. A lot of the time I say, `Geez, I'll take anything else (over leaving them with the mother),' " observes Joseph Sherman, a pediatrician at the Children's National Medical Center here. "I strongly feel a crack-addicted mother or parent just about in every case is unable to care for a child unless they're in recovery."

Dr. Sherman notes that he has cared for children of alcoholics, heroin addicts, and marijuana smokers, but that crack addicts have a unique craving that "always overcomes the parental instinct . …

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