In 2014, a baby was born in the Northern Tier three months early and dependent on heroin. His cry was high-pitched and unrelenting. He weighed just over three pounds at birth and entered foster care a few weeks later. A child welfare caseworker delivered the tiny newborn, jotted down a cell phone number on the back of the hospital discharge instructions, and instructed the foster parents to call the number if they needed anything. They quickly realized that their needs were significant but not tangible. They needed information, knowledge, guidance, support, and community to care for the baby properly.
At the time, resources were scarce for better understanding drug-exposed infants. Physicians were just beginning to diagnose neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), and the constellation of symptoms still was largely misunderstood. People still whispered the word "addict." The stigma in the air was palpable.
Yet, the tiny baby boy, later named Asa, compelled his foster mother into action. She wondered about the other babies like him. She wondered about the other young parents, like his, struggling with drug use. She wondered about the children in her community, county, and region who had been negatively impacted by parental substance use. She began to wonder how she could help more children. Once the baby's adoption was finalized a few years later, his circumstances inspired her to create a nonprofit known as Asa's Place. Yet, the need for child-focused programs and services was so great in Tioga County that she formed a wider-reaching parent organization called I'mPACT - I'm Protecting Against Childhood Trauma.
Today, Asa is seven and is an adorable, thriving, first-grader with a magnetic personality. And, I'mPACT has grown, too! I'mPACT has four programs in its service portfolio that address the lead reason child welfare agencies become involved in children's lives in Pennsylvania: Parent/caregiver substance use.
The Tioga County CASA program gives a voice to children in the courtroom who have (most often) been removed from their parents' care and placed in foster care. The Tioga County CAC (Children's Advocacy Center) is fully-equipped and waiting to serve child abuse/neglect victims. Our community remains steadfastly committed to opening the CAC which is dependent on many factors including support from County government staff and local elected officials such as the District Attorney and the Commissioners. Nurture Me is working with pregnant women with substance use disorders to facilitate their access to treatment, improve prenatal care, and create a "Plan of Safe Care." The Plan of Safe care works to increase the safety of the infant once born and decrease child welfare involvement. Asa's Place will become Pennsylvania's first Residential Pediatric Recovery Center to care for baby and mother after discharge from the hospital. Asa's Place is currently awaiting legislation to solidify this new model of care in statute and create a licensing pathway.
I'mPACT is young but mighty in passion and leadership. Our Board of Directors is fiercely passionate about improving the lives of children and their families. Our organization is about change and systems improvement. It is about ensuring evidence-based programs reach children in rural communities, too. Ultimately, it is about placing children in the center of public policy and helping their families regain their health and refocus their lives.
I'mPACT works with intention. It is determined to do more with a renewed sense of urgency for the children left bobbing in the wake of the opioid crisis. Drug overdose deaths claimed more than 100,000 American lives last year and this public health crisis has left a record number of children without a family. The heartbreak is heavy, but the burden doesn't have to be if enough people, people just like you, help carry it. www.impactareyou.org