TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - More Indiana children are being removed from their homes because their parents are abusing drugs.
There have been overdose deaths in 89 of 92 Indiana counties over the past five years, according data released Monday, but the opioid epidemic is also impacting those just starting their lives.
One Indiana man says he is taking care of his four grandchildren because the parents are drug abusers. The youngest child is seven months old and was born addicted to opioids.
Ernie Shearer says, "To bring a child into this world addicted to anything is criminal. That should not ever happen."
Shearer was already caring for three grandchildren when his life changed, again.
"Had no idea she existed until my wife came home one day in shock because she had gotten a phone call from DCS (Department of Child Services) saying there was a forth one."
The baby girl struggled early in life.
"It's hard for me to talk about that sometimes. She actually quit breathing in the hospital. She had this little twitch in her. She had respiratory issues. They had to keep her in the hospital for nine days after she was born."
Shearer says his granddaughter could have died or become brain dead had the nurses not been there when she stopped breathing.
Doctors confirmed two of the four children were born addicted but Shearer thinks another "slipped through the cracks" and is now showing symptoms.
Shearer and his family represent a growing number of Hoosiers impacted by opioid abuse.
According to data released by the Indiana Youth Institute from the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, the number of children removed from their homes because parents are abusing drugs or alcohol continues to climb. The state saw a fifty-eight percent increase in the number of children in foster care in the past five years.
IYI CEO Tami Silverman says, "Now, again, when you talk to the experts there, they say it's largely opioids. That's been the difference maker in the past few years that have contributed to that increase."
More than two percent of children in Vigo county live with a foster parent, according to the research, and there were nearly forty-two substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect per 1,000 children compared to 19 cases statewide.
Shearer says he raised his son to be a good man but he and other fathers need to step-up and care for their families.
"Even though I love 'em, I think they belong in jail. The weak part of the system is prosecutors are reluctant to charge them with anything, whether there is something they can charge them with or not, I'm not sure but there needs to be if there's not."
Shearer says the children born addicted may be full, clean and clothed but they will have cravings they do not understand.
According to IYI, babies exposed to drugs in the womb are at increased risk of heart defects and problems with brain and spinal development.
Infants, like the Shearer baby, can experience neonatal abstinence syndrome resulting in tremors, seizures and respiratory issues.
Silverman says more work needs to be done to help the kids living in homes with drug addicted parents. Health officials and teachers could use training to identify children in these situations and ensure they are cared for and continue to learn and grow.
Shearer, who is also a member of Indiana Foster and Adoptive Parents, says he has met many other grandparents like him. He says more people have to get involved and communicate with state and local elected officials to get laws changed.