Advocacy organization formed for substance-exposed children


Foster parents and other caregivers currently raising children born addicted meet and greet during the To The Moon and Back program’s first meeting last month afternoon at the J.W. & Hazel Ruby West Virginia Welcome Center near Glen Jean.
Photo by Brad Davis/The Register-Herald – With West Virginia leading the nation in drug overdose deaths and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) births, the national organization To the Moon and Back has launched its second chapter in the Mountain State.

To the Moon and Back, a Plymouth, Massachusetts-based nonprofit, says it aspires to offer local children more support services as well as legislation advocacy for those without a voice.

Cindy Chamberlin of Fayetteville serves as president of the West Virginia chapter. Chamberlin is also a physical therapist for the statewide support service Birth to Three.

(During the past legislative session), Chamberlin and several Birth to Three colleagues lobbied at the West Virginia State Capitol during 2019 Year of the Child Day – a year-long advocacy campaign created to advocate for kids affected by the opioid crisis.

Chamberlin spoke with state officials about the impact of NAS on West Virginia’s youth and the need for improved legislation supporting the cause…

“We will continue to actively collaborate with our legislators to advocate for the important needs of these children,” Chamberlin says.

(Aside from starting) a support group and offering NAS training to local foster families, she also plans to collaborate with local foster care agencies and children’s organizations in the region to continue to raise awareness, provide strategies and bolster support for caregivers and child care providers.

“We are thrilled to bring the nonprofit To The Moon and Back to West Virginia,” Chamberlin said. “We as practitioners in Birth to Three have already been talking about this with the families we serve. By working together and having a caregiver support group, we are going to be able to raise the bar.”

In 2018, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources released data on county-level NAS data from 2017. This data showed the overall incidence rate of NAS was 50 cases per 1,000 or 5 percent for West Virginia residents, making it the highest incidence rate in the country.

NAS 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.

“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,” Chamberlin said.

“These children are not bad! They are different, and we must honor and understand that in order to help them,” she said. “At the end of the day, that is what this is about – helping families have the tools to help children thrive and succeed.”

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