Life with Gracie: Who steps in when parents’ drug use unravels children’s lives?

The men on Breckenridge Court in north Fulton adopted Aaron, then Katherine and Will because their mother preferred being high on cocaine to caring for them.

Aaron is 10 now, Katherine is 8 and Will is 7, the sons and daughter of Jim Bass and Ken Adcox of Alpharetta. They are also Jim Bass’ niece and nephews, children of an ever-increasing number of families unraveling because their parents are either in rehab, in jail, dead, or otherwise incapable of taking care of them because of substance abuse.

Given recent news of the opioid epidemic sweeping the country, that might not surprise you, but it ought to make you sad.

Children are taken from their parents for all sorts of reasons, including neglect and abandonment. But substance abuse?

According to Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services, it’s a growing problem. Of the 13,490 children in foster homes in our state, about 40 percent were removed from families due to substance abuse.

The more I hear stories like Ken’s and Jim’s, and I hear them a lot, the more apparent it becomes children are as much the victims of this epidemic as the men and women struggling with addiction, providing a poignant reminder that interventions can’t just provide addiction treatment. They have to include family members, too, especially children.

RELATED: Drug crisis creates growing need for Ga. foster parents

After spending his first days addicted to cocaine and on methadone, Aaron was turned over to DFCS.

When Ken, 54, and Jim, 56, learned the infant was in foster care, they sought custody and a year later moved from Cobb County to Fulton so they could adopt him.

It took more than a year, but the adoption was complete in August 2008.

By then, the couple, married since 2014, learned Jim’s sister Kathleen was pregnant and in jail again, for prostitution, loitering, and possession of a controlled substance.

“We talked and considered what was going on and what was going to happen,” Ken said. “When she gave birth Oct. 18, 2008, DFCS called us because we had the brother.”

Kathleen, who had three other children being cared for by relatives, surrendered her rights to a fifth child. And so at just 6 days old, they brought Katherine home and adopted her later that same year.

Despite years of substance abuse, Kathleen, now 36, seemed to get her life together after Katherine was born. She went back to school, got a job and worked her way to assistant manager of a local Waffle House.

In 2010, she gave birth to another son, named Will. In 2013, she fell into trouble again — destruction of property — for plowing down street signs with Will in the car. Jim and Ken came to the rescue again, offering to help while she got “her act together.”

Not long after, Ken got a text asking him to meet her at the North Springs MARTA Station.

There she handed Will over. He was nearly 4, still in diapers and wearing only a pair of shorts and a shirt.

“I dropped her off at a drug house and haven’t seen her since,” Ken said.

RELATED: Devastated by his sister’s death, Brett Bramble set out on an odyssey to draw attention to heroin epidemic

RELATED: Why heroin and why now?

As Katherine got older, Jim, a director of client advocacy for a local payroll company, said their daughter started making up stories about her mother, telling people she had died of cancer.

“We’re men,” he said. “We can’t hide the fact that there was a mother somewhere.”

It was then, they said, they decided to introduce Katherine and her brothers to their three older siblings. They also explained that Kathleen was sick and unable to care for them.

That was their job now.

According to Susan Boatwright, DFCS workers began seeing an uptick in children being removed from their homes about 18 months ago.

RELATED: Hit hard by budget cuts, DFCS strains as workload jumps

“We started hearing from judges and advocates around the state that substance abuse by caregivers” was on the rise and increasingly a factor in the need to remove children from a home.

When that happens, the goal is always to place them with family.

The oldest of seven children, Jim Bass said he always wanted a large family but gave up on that whole notion because gay adoptions were frowned upon, especially in Cobb County, where the couple lived at the time.

“When we got Aaron, that was great,” he said. “We had no idea we’d have more.”

When the children came along, the couple decided Jim would be the breadwinner and Ken, the stay-at-home dad, shuttling Aaron, who has autism and is nonverbal, to therapy three days a week, Katherine to piano lessons and Will to basketball. Ken previously served on the PTA Board, was past president of their neighborhood and is involved with many activities at their church.

Their family is led by gay men, but this isn’t a statement for or against gay adoption. It is a story about a couple who saw three children who happen to be relatives in need of parents and were willing to step up.

Every child facing foster care should be so lucky.

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