Kalib Swafford sees his birth father James Fuller for the first time in 10 years.
Recovering addict and 12-year-old son reunite
05:23 - Source: CNN

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Half the Ohio children removed from their homes in 2015 faced parental drug use

Some babies and children enter the foster system with addiction problems of their own

Dayton, Ohio CNN  — 

When Cyndi and Jesse Swafford were certified to become foster parents 10 years ago, they were told to expect to wait for a baby up to two or three years. Fast forward to today – with a foster license, a new baby can be placed with them within a week.

“It blows my mind,” Cyndi says. “There are babies in the hospital waiting because of this heroin epidemic for a family that will be able to take care of them.”

Walk into the Swafford home and you’ll find it filled with baby bottles, cribs and framed family portraits. In the last decade, Cyndi and Jesse have taken in 15 foster children.

“We’re a temporary gap between their parents getting clean and sober, and then, if we can reunify them, we will,” Cyndi says.

Foster care systems in many states are struggling to manage children whose parents are addicted to opioids. Nationally, 32% of children were removed from their homes due to drug abuse by a parent as of September 30, 2015, the most recent data available, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services foster care reporting system.

In Ohio, where the Swaffords live, that percentage is even higher. Fifty percent of children taken into custody in 2015 faced parental drug use when they were removed, and 28% of children removed that year had parents using opioids, according to Public Children Services Association of Ohio. “Nearly a third of children in custody are there because of the epidemic, and that number doesn’t count many children who continue to be served in their homes or who are placed with kin,” the association noted.

Ohio has become the crossroads of the crisis, as the intersection of interstates 70 and 75 has been dubbed by law enforcement the “distribution hub of America,” according to Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer. And children of parents addicted to opioids are the “invisible victims of the epidemic,” according to the Children Services Association.

Of the 15 foster children Cyndi and Jesse have taken in over the last decade, 13 were there because one or both of their birth parents struggled with drug addiction.

“I’m confident that if we opened another bed in our home, it would be filled with another baby with an opiate issue,” Cyndi says, “It’s hard to hold a baby as they are withdrawing from heroin.”

Cyndi and Jesse Swafford, shown with their foster, adopted and biological children. CNN obscured a portion of this image to protect the identities of two foster children.

Between 2000 and 2013, the rate of babies born addicted to drugs increased five times in the United States.

These babies are frequently born early and have low birth weights. As they withdraw, they tremble, have difficulty feeding and regulating their temperatures. They’re best known for their wailing, piercing cries as their bodies detox from the drugs. For some babies, these symptoms can last as long as four to six months, depending on how long they were exposed and the amount they were exposed to. While some studies have found these children are more likely to have behavioral issues when they are older, the data on long term effects are limited.

Helen Jones-Kelley, who runs the addiction services and mental health programs in Montgomery County, says foster parents aren’t rushing into the system to help the way they have in the past.

“There’s a fearfulness and it’s an understandable fearfulness because some of the children are grappling with their own addiction,” Jones-Kelley tells CNN. “It’s hard to understand that as a foster parent, you have to watch out for things going missing or the potential of a child dying from an overdose while in your care.”