Children born to addiction face many challenges

Annual child abuse prevention event held

PREVENTING ABUSE — Jefferson County Job and Family Services, Children Services Division, held its annual child abuse prevention luncheon on Wednesday. Cara Walter of Steubenville, a clinician at the mother-baby unit at Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, was the guest speaker, addressing how the hospital deals with babies born addicted to drugs. Participating in the event were, from left, Raymond Robinson, children services division administrator, Walter, and Elizabeth Ferron, job and family services director - Mark Law

STEUBENVILLE — Children born addicted to drugs face a childhood of challenges, said Cara Walter, a clinician at the mother-baby unit at Magee-Women’s Hospital.

Walter was the guest speaker Wednesday at the Jefferson County Job and Family Services Department’s annual child abuse prevention luncheon held at Froehlich’s Classic Corner. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month in the county.

A Steubenville resident, Walter is a registered nurse with eight years of experience at the Pittsburgh hospital. She said about 300 babies are born a year in Allegheny County with exposure to opiates. More than one-half are born to a mother who is in methadone treatment for heroin addiction.

Walter said symptoms of drug addiction in a baby usually show up in 48 to 72 hours after delivery. An assessment nurse visits babies every three hours to check on the symptoms. Babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome must stay in the hospital at least seven days. Some stays can last up to eight weeks, she said.

Babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome are give morphine, which is gradually reduced, Walter said.

She said deaths are rarely associated with neonatal abstinence syndrome, but those children have a higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome.

One of the symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome is a high-pitched cry. Walter said the hospital has a volunteer cuddler program, where people will hold the baby.

She said some of the mothers can be mad at the staff because their baby was born addicted to drugs.

The infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome can face a difficult childhood, including learning disabilities, speech and behavioral problems, difficulty adapting to certain situations and poor social skills, Walter said.

Walter said she has seen an increase in babies born at the hospital with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“It is a hard job,” Walter said, adding newer nurses are educated on how chemical dependency is a disease.

“We try to give them hope for life when they go home,” she said about caring for the babies.

Sheriff Fred Abdalla said at the luncheon that the mothers should be charged with child endangering. He said he has been working with Prosecutor Jane Hanlin on how charges can be filed against the mothers who give birth to a baby born addicted to drugs.

According to the Ohio Department of Health statistics, Jefferson County had the fourth highest rate in the state of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome per 1,000 live births from 2011 through 2015.

(Law can be contacted at mlaw@heraldstaronline.com.)