Hidden in the Shadows

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According to a recent report from the Carsey Institute, “hidden in the shadows of NH’s opioid epidemic are the children who live with their parents’ addiction every day. They fall behind in school as the trouble at home starts to dominate their lives… they are shuttled about to live with relatives or in foster care and they face an uncertain future. “

In the United States, one in eight children under age 18, live with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder. This can result in negative consequences resulting in emotional or behavioral problems and difficulty with attachment, establishing trusting relationships and increasing the likelihood of the child turning to drugs as well. To break that cycle, the child needs to form stable connections that override the lack of emotional bonding and build resilience to buffer the negative experience of living with a parent with a substance use disorder. “

Madison, or ML as her friends call her, could have been one of those statistics but thanks to caring friends, compassionate caregivers, and courageous counselors, she has her own Superheroes Team who have helped her stay positive and move forward.

ML and her older brother had a chaotic childhood. Her dad was a recovering heroin addict on methadone and was abusive, mostly towards ML. “It could be anything that triggered him – a bad day at work or even if my brother got into some trouble, I was blamed.” Her mom abused and sold pills. Her parents split up in 2010 when ML was 11. Mom took off, eventually living on the streets and dad had custody. Brother and sister alike tried to avoid Dad’s mood swings and anger issues, but verbal and emotional abuse ruled the house. In 2013 Dad suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. Mom moved back into their lives and both kids noticed her escalating substance problem. Mom’s succession of boyfriends was also abusive to ML, especially when they were using. On a visit, the DCYS caseworker noticed a loaded heroin needle on the couch and at that point, the kids were removed from the home and went into placement.

Enter ML’s childhood friend Jazmin, our first superhero. ML moved in with Jazmin’s family for almost 2 years. She was able to continue attending her high school although her time there was not always pleasant. “ I was bullied a lot mostly in the cafeteria, because of how I looked and dressed in second hand clothes that didn’t fit well and because I was homeless. A caring teacher created a safe space for ML and a few others at lunchtime.

Jazmin’s family lost their home and ML was placed in the first of two foster homes and then at the Chase Home in 2015. During this time of rootlessness, the stability in her life came in the form of her best friend, Jillian. “Jillian lived on the other side of town. She has always been there for me. I still see her once a week. We are both taking online courses at Granite State College and help each other with our Gen. Ed. stuff. She takes me to appointments, buys me clothes, and is always there to talk to when I need a friend. “

ML’s caseworker at Chase Home is the third member of our Justice League – Jyanna. “ Working with Jyanna, I started to feel good about myself for the first time and to think that maybe I could be someone.” ML described Jyanna as being amazing. “She was not afraid to tell me what I should be doing. She has the kindest, biggest heart in the world. This was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Together they planned for ML’s future. But, as often happens, ML veered from that plan and moved in with a boyfriend. When they broke up, she found herself homeless and living at the Crossroads shelter. “It was safe, but there was no privacy, 25-30 women shared one room – like a big dorm. It was hard to study. “ At Crossroads, she found out about the Waypoint Transitional Living Program and the Robert L. Chiesa Memorial Scholarship Program Waypoint administered for homeless youth. She applied for and received the scholarship and also was accepted into TLP. Her caseworker, Jen, is the fourth superhero in ML’s life. She had been ML’s English teacher at Portsmouth High School and arranged for ML to talk with seniors in her old high school in Conway, NH. As ML’s TLP caseworker she has been invaluable. “They provide transportation to job interviews, health appointments, help me develop workable goals, and have given me that safety net I need. Every week I meet with Jen and we make a list of what I need to get done.”

ML has big dreams now. She is taking courses at Granite State College and sees herself in five years as an Early Childhood Educator. On her application for the Chiesa Scholarship she wrote, “Í want to become a teacher because they had the most influence on me. They were the only ones who truly cared about me and wanted me to succeed. I would love the chance to make students feel like I did.”

Teachers, counselors, caseworkers all provided help along the way, led by ML’s Justice League: Jillian, Jazmin, Jyanna and Jen.

ML has come out on the other side of a bad beginning with a positive and healthy outlook. Her advice: “Find one person to connect with, a friend, a caseworker, a teacher to help you along the way. Be open and honest about your situation and things will work out. 

– Summer 2018


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