Substance Exposed Child Advocacy Organization Expands to West Virginia
PLYMOUTH, MA and FAYETTEVILLE,WV Issued February 4, 2019… As West Virginia struggles with its identification as the U.S. state with the highest rate of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) births in the entire country, one Massachusetts support organization bolsters its battle against substance abuse’s nationwide epidemic. To The Moon and Back, Inc. announces an important expansion from its Plymouth, MA headquarters to launch a new chapter in Fayetteville, West Virginia, offering services to support the families and communities in a rapidly growing population.
To The Moon and Back, Inc. (TTMAB), an advocacy non-profit founded in 2018 by Theresa Harmon, MSW, LICSW, is dedicated to supporting children born substance exposed and their caregivers. Its Fayetteville location will be led by newly appointed Chapter President Cindy Chamberlin, MSPT. The expansion announcement immediately follows Chamberlin’s appearance lobbying at the West Virginia State Capitol Thursday in support of West Virginia’s “2019 Year of the Child Day”, supporting a year-long advocacy campaign created to gather West Virginians as advocates for children affected by the widespread opioid crisis. Chamberlin, accompanied by a lobbying committee of industry leaders, spoke with state officials about the impact of NAS on development in young children, and aspirations to improved legislature supporting the cause. During the day’s activities, a foster care reform bill (HB2010) passed in the House, and is headed to a Senate vote, an education reform bill (SB 451) is in its final reading, but Chamberlin insists there is still more to be accomplished. “We will continue to actively collaborate with our legislators to advocate for the important needs of these children,” shares Chamberlin. Amongst her first tasks in this new role will be fulfilling an invitation to present NAS training to the local foster families in March. She also plans to collaborate with foster care agencies and children’s organizations in the region to raise awareness, provide strategies and bolster support for childcare providers and caregivers.
“We’re behind the curve on research and best practices for the care of our children,” states Harmon. “We want to communicate a unified front across state lines to the entire world. We’re aggressively working together as a cohesive team to improve the care for this community and for the sake of all children.” The issues that substance exposed children face come as no surprise to Harmon, who first launched her career in the child welfare industry, serving Florida’s Department of Children and Families, later working in early intervention, as a daycare teacher and as a school social worker.
Chamberlin first became acquainted with Harmon following a segment interview for a NOVA television network documentary on addiction and children diagnosed with NAS. “The segment was never aired on the network, but went viral when posted to social media.” Upon viewing the video, Harmon connected with Chamberlin, and immediately distinguished her a kindred spirit and true fellow advocate for the cause. Conversations revealed Chamberlin’s extensive background in the NICU at Raleigh General Hospital, as an advocate for quality and equal education serving on Fayette United for Safe Education’s Board, as a Board Member of Fayette County Health Department and in Clay County school district. Excited about their aligned passion, the two later made the decision to work collaboratively under the existing nonprofit.
As a physical therapist in the West Virginia “Birth to Three” program, Chamberlin is passionate about the road she plans to forge ahead. “I am excited to propel To The Moon’s second chapter to inspire increased awareness, and to educate and empower caregivers facing trials in this rapidly growing population,” shares Chamberlin, “I’ve seen the effect that increased incidence of NAS and the drug crisis is taking in our school setting. Amazing teachers are struggling, so we will continue to educate and empower them with resources to help alleviate the consequences of this epidemic.”
With substance abuse in the United States at an all-time high, TTMAB’s new chapter arrives at a pivotal moment. During 2018, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) released data on county-level Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) data from 2017 demonstrating that the overall incidence rate of NAS was 50.6 cases per 1,000 live births (5.06%) for West Virginia residents along, making it the highest incidence rate in the country. (Source: dhhr.wv.gov/bph) Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is the withdrawal syndrome that children born drug dependent experience. Currently, limited research on the long-term consequences of NAS suggests that children born with the syndrome can experience hearing and vision problems, fine and gross motor delays, behavioral and cognitive problems and more.
The national problem, as stated on TTMAB’s website, indicates that a child is born in the United States with withdrawal symptoms every 15 minutes (Source: Vanderbilt University, 2018). This is a marked increase from 2015 when one child with withdrawal symptoms was born every 25 minutes (Source: March of Dimes, 2015). In 2017, The Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimated that 21.4 out of every 1000 live births were children born opiate dependent, a drastic increase from 14.5 per 1000 births in 2015. Similar to West Virginia statewide, the Southeastern Massachusetts region has the highest rate of children born dependent, more than twice that number, at 46.2 per 1000 births (Massachusetts Department of Public Health: 2017).
Initially launched as a peer-to-peer support group for caregivers in 2017, To The Moon And Back’s leadership immediately recognized the struggle to find appropriate resources and support as a global issue for affected families. Foster and adoptive parents, relative and non-relative caregivers experienced similar long-term consequence of their affected children’s exposure. Seeking to fill the obvious need, TTMAB became a non-profit in April of 2018 to aid in its mission to support children born substance exposed and their families. The organization is about to launch a resource guide for families as well as a family grant to aid needy families with funds for uncovered medical expenses (i.e. – weighted blankets, nutritional supplements and therapy copays). A quarterly children’s group focuses on teaching kids and families skills to assist in their identified needs through programs like yoga, mindfulness, sensory based activities and karate.
Early on, TTMAB made great headway supporting an effort to launch legislation with State Representative Matt Muratore in collaboration with Boston Medical Center. The amendment, on the docket in the opioid addiction prevention and treatment bill, has been postponed for approval with aspirations to pass in 2020. If the amendment passes, it would provide grant funding for programs and services for substance exposed children beyond birth. The achievement would allow service organizations to establish best practices in care and pull longer term data to best understand the population and serve in its care.
In addition to legislative goals, TTMAB organizes expert speakers experienced in children with substance exposure in educational events for caregivers and to inform communities on the latest in research and best practices. Specialized programs provide a safe place to discuss parenting and gain support in caring for substance exposed children with peers. Education programs provide expert training to industry health providers and social services to help guide the care of those affected, as well as recommendations to local and state leaders on the unmet needs of the population and gaps in services for children to thrive beyond Early Intervention programs.
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