Local data shows children born exposed to opioids cause strain on service providers

Recorder Staff
Published: 1/23/2018 8:01:26 PM

GREENFIELD — Area service providers say children exposed to opioids in utero are placing a significant strain on their agencies, according to locally surveyed data recently presented at an Early Childhood Mental Health Roundtable.

The stressors that service organizations are facing include bureaucratic issues like paperwork, difficulties finding the proper resources for the children and stress on already thin staffs.

“We have some alarm bells going off on how these kids are impacting us,” director of ServiceNet’s REACH Early Intervention Program Michael Hutton-Woodland said. “From a policy side, what can we do?”

Surveying took place in August and September last year. The data was presented to many Roundtable members earlier this month as those in attendance started to think about how they can soften the fallout from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

Head of the Early Childhood Mental Health Roundtable Sarah Patton said, “All of this data is supporting everything we live and breathe.”

Survey details

Hutton-Woodland presented his findings from the survey data at the Roundtable quarterly meeting, its first of the new year.

While the last two meetings focused on others aspects of the opioid epidemic, this survey sought to answer questions that have surfaced because of children being born with some type of exposure to opioids.

The survey fielded 29 responses from health professionals in the area, including a handful from early prevention specialists.

Although results varied, there was a consensus that the effects were felt by everyone.

Respondents said they have seen an “alarming increase” in clients they see as a result of the opioid crisis.

“People feel like their hearts are breaking in a way, so it’s very hard with these kids,” Hutton-Woodland said.

Results showed that staffs were too short to adequately respond to this health issue. In addition, with the strain on staff, turnover in the jobs continue to be a problem, which also affects the ability to keep everyone sufficiently trained.

“There’s always additional need of another staff member or how we could benefit from this training,” Hutton-Woodland said.

Consistently, responses to the survey also reflected a need to work better with the local Department of Children and Families.

“DCF is such an important player in working with these kids and families,” Hutton-Woodland said. “We’re working to keep that connection strong, but I think it can always be stronger.”

Points of concern for members of the Roundtable were challenges with the referral process for home placement, grandparents raising the children and children with complex needs.

“Usually, when we talk about this, it’s about housing and transportation and education,” Patton said, but the broad health issues have been overlooked. “This is really significant.”

A possible gap in service for children when their parents relapse was another problem that the survey exposed. A longer term concern from this problem is what’s happening to the public school systems.

“A lot of them are funneling to the public schools so we need to be thoughtful about what the schools need to do,” Hutton-Woodland said.

Hutton-Woodland, Patton and others from service providers including Community Action and Clinical & Support Options said lobbying efforts of local and state legislators might be helpful.

“Would we bring an elected official and bring them to this meeting at some point and talk to them about these kids?” Hutton-Woodland said.

The Roundtable participants said a necessary piece of the solution is to make sure providers are equipped to serve these populations. Roundtable members said lobbying elected officials for better wages for the workers or more sustainable grant money could be a tangible effort moving forward.

Universal form?

A brief discussion circled around the idea of creating universal paperwork to help ease one layer of the bureaucratic process families face when going from one service organization to another.

The idea sprouted from a conversation about how families have to fill out general information forms at each organization they go to, which Roundtable members noted can be cumbersome for those seeking treatment.

Instead, the idea is to have a single form that families can carry with them from group to group, helping them to avoid filling out the same info again and again.

One idea was to create a phone app to meet the way many families prefer to keep their information, providers said.

“There are all these colleges around. Could somebody design an app that would be this family resource organizer app?” said Mary McClintock, Community Action’s new collaboration coordinator.

The implementation of this plan is mostly in the brainstorming stage.

The survey will continue to be a focus of the Roundtable for future meetings.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:


413-772-0261, ext. 264


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