In 2019, a New York Times reporter, Dan Levin, detailed the horrific experiences of children in Ohio who were removed from their homes after years of neglect, abuse and traumatic childhood experiences. He leads the story by writing that, “Nearly 27,000 children in Ohio were removed from their homes last year, many because of the opioid crisis. More than a quarter were placed in the care of relatives.”
The stories Levin recounted were those of children sent outside without sufficient food and water while their parents use drugs, as sister and brother Hannah and James experienced each summer. These children were also exposed to traumatic violence between their parents, as seven-year-old Hannah called 911 after her mother chased her father with a knife. Hannah’s father was later killed by her mother’s boyfriend.
Stories like these paint the picture of the lives of many of these 27,000 children. Parents in rehab, sick or dead from drug addiction are circumstances that young children are exposed to far too commonly. So commonly, that a name was dedicated to children trapped in these vicious cycles of addiction – Generation O.
Certain geographic areas are more dense with these concerns.
“In Portsmouth, Ohio, at least a quarter of the school district’s nearly 650 junior high and high school students have a close relative who uses drugs.”
As written in another NYT article by Dan Levin, this will have a long-lasting impact on the communities with heavy users, as more children are being born with a dependency on opioids, and many with severe learning disabilities and other types of disabilities. This poses a new challenge for educators as schools increasingly become places of refuge in the lives of maltreated children.
“Many students frequently come to school wearing the same, unwashed clothes days in a row, so shelves are stocked with clean garments, along with fresh shampoo, bars of soap and deodorant.
Yet some of the teenagers change back into their own clothes after the final bell rings and the last class ends, ‘because parents will take new clothes and sell them for drug money,’ said Drew Applegate, an assistant principal.”
In a sobering reality of family life in Portsmouth, an art teacher cannot think of any student who paints a two-parent family during their family portrait lesson.
As long as the opioid crisis presides over these communities, there will continue to be a shift that emphasizes the role of educators in children’s lives.