Program aims to help kids exposed to opioids before birth
By TERRY DEMIO The Cincinnati Enquirer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Rosie is a 13-pound 4-month-old, just shy of the average weight of babies her age. And that’s a relief.
“Her bottle-feeding has come a long way,” said her therapist Jill Huff, eyeing the infant in a white T-shirt and pink tutu wiggling on a colorful play mat during therapy last week.
Rosie’s progress is a result of an innovative initiative underway for children of mothers in addiction treatment and recovery at First Step Home in Walnut Hills.
The center started a child resiliency program in January that gives specialized therapy to infants and children who have developmental delays or behavioral problems, sometimes caused by opioid exposure before birth.
The children may have drug dependence when they’re born or they might have experienced trauma as their moms struggled with addiction.
The care at First Step Home helps ensure that babies and children get help early.
The program is especially important now, with soaring neonatal abstinence syndrome babies born in the United States as a symptom of a yearslong opioid epidemic. The condition has newborns facing withdrawal from medications or drugs their mothers took while pregnant.
In Ohio, 715 babies were born with the syndrome in 2009, Ohio Department of Health records show. The number was 1,932 in 2018, an increase of 170% since 2009.
The withdrawal symptoms usually are cleared up safely with hospital treatment. But as the children grow, they’re more likely to have developmental delays or behavioral issues.
Rosie didn’t suffer from full-blown neonatal abstinence syndrome when she was born at Good Samaritan Hospital on May 1. She returned to First Step Home with her mom, Brittany Hill, in three days. But she did have trouble feeding consistently — a common problem for opioid-exposed newborns.
And when Hill realized Rosie needed extra help, Rosie got it. Right at their doorstep.
The on-site therapy helps the children thrive, said Margo Spence, president and CEO of First Step Home. “It’s a disruption to have to find transportation and to leave.”
The program provides health assessments for all children, newborn to 12, living at First Step Home with their moms. Specialists in trauma-informed care, speech therapy, behavioral health and a pediatric nurse are among experts who help them.
In seven weeks of therapy, Rosie has gone from a distressed infant who’d pull away, turn her head and cry out rather than suckle to a smiley baby who’s content with a bottle.
Rosie’s mom has followed addiction treatment doctors consider best practices since she was pregnant. Hill is in medication-assisted treatment with methadone and has stayed in recovery in a First Step Home sober-living house. She’s also working.
It wasn’t long ago, Hill said, that she felt unable to soothe her crying baby and worried that Rosie wasn’t gaining weight quickly enough.
“There’s a couple of times where I just sat in my room and cried,” Hill said.
Now Rosie isn’t just eating right, she’s also making all the right sounds, which can be a problem for little ones who start off with feeding issues.
“She’ll make a noise to get your attention,” Huff said. “She’s conversing in a baby way.”
The child resiliency program is paid for with $80,000 from the city of Cincinnati, and a $50,000 grant from Interact for Health just kicked in. The goal is to serve 70 children by January. Therapists and mothers say they’re seeing positive results, Spence said.
Huff plans to stay with Rosie and her mother as long as she can help them both.
The infant smiled and cooed as her mother interacted with her during a therapy session last week.
“Her mom has been so good with her. So patient,” Huff said.
Hill picked up Rosie, kissed her face and said, “There’s no love like I have for her.”
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com