By Mark Powell
A Massachusetts Program is Helping Babies Impacted by Addiction
Theresa and Andy Harmon had a problem. They couldn’t find guidance and support to help with their newly-adopted son. He was born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), caused by in utero exposure to addictive drugs. Even Theresa’s background as a clinical social worker wasn’t turning up much.
Their research led to a discovery: there was a startling gap in best care practices for children with NAS as they age. In fact, very little longterm research was available. In October 2017, the Harmons created a support group called To the Moon and Back for caregivers (adoptive and foster parents, relative and non-relative caregivers) of children born with substance exposure. It gained non-profit status six months later.
To the Moon and Back’s mission is to support children born with substance exposure and their caregivers through support, education and advocacy. It holds support group meetings twice each month. Caregivers get an opportunity to support one another and connect with their peers. Parents discuss ways to address the physical and developmental consequences that NAS children may experience as they grow. The group often hosts guest speakers (such as school advocates, behaviorists, Department of Children and Families representatives, and early intervention experts) to educate families about available resources.
The non-profit also sponsors a quarterly kids group that teaches important skills to parents and children alike. Sensory-friendly activities promote sensory integration at home along with yoga and mindfulness. It unites To the Moon and Back’s caregiver group and the local Mom’s Recovery Group in a shared goal of caring for children. Additionally, kids can connect with other kids. The group is open to children of all ages with a history of NAS or substance exposure.
As the opioid epidemic has worsened, the impact on pregnant women and infants has increased, along with the number of cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), when an infant becomes dependent on opioids or other drugs used by the mother during pregnancy.
To the Moon and Back was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.