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— With a third of Monroe County babies born exposed to drugs, local agencies are hoping to connect mothers to resources that will help them and their babies lead healthy and successful lives.

The Child Impact Subcommittee works to develop local networks, provide educational opportunities and initiate policy changes to address community issues.

“The impact of substance abuse is a huge issue among adults,” said Amy Zarend, director of the Monroe County Great Start Collaborative. “We are seeing drug-addicted and drug-exposed children in our Early On and preschool programs.”

Young children are coming to school with behavior challenges or developmental delays as a direct result of a mother’s decision during birth.

“We want to help mom and support her,” Zarend said of the subcommittee.

Research shows that anything the mother eats or drinks affects the baby during pregnancy, she said, and “there can be developmental side effects that carry over into the school years.”

The plan is to support all mothers, she added.

“We are not trying to get the babies taken away,” Zarend said. “There might be some fear on the mom’s part about that, but we are trying to provide her support.”

The committee, which held its first meeting in October, comprises about 15 people from about 10 agencies.

Wendy Klinski, clinical supervisor and operations manager for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, said the curriculum will help mothers learn about addiction as a disease, what they can accomplish for themselves and their children, and how to get support for after their babies are born.

“The ultimate goal is for the moms to get formalized treatment,” she said. “That begins by getting them to come to the meetings.”

The number of women addicted to substances like heroin has increased sharply. In the short term, the committee hopes to help educate women and connect them with the proper programs to help.

For the long term, the goal is more challenging. “We would like to have healthier babies born without addiction,” Klinski said.

Overcoming stigma likely will be difficult for the group.

“One of the biggest challenges is society thinks that you can just stop the addiction,” Klinski said. “If a substance is ingested even once, it transforms your brain and you might not be able to stop.”

In addition, the subcommittee is addressing a number of ways to help women have healthier pregnancies and have fewer withdrawal symptoms for babies born exposed. The support group also will assist mom after birth should she decide to parent the child.

“We know that these children are born every day here in our community, and it is important that we address the issue sooner rather than later to get supports and services in place,” Zarend said. “These children will soon be in classrooms throughout Monroe County, so we need to make sure that they are prepared to be there to the best of their ability. And, it’s important that parents feel connected and have the resources they need in place to positively parent their children.”

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