Bothell clinic helps kids exposed to drugs and alcohol

One in every 10 kids in the U.S. had prenatal exposure. The consequences are numerous.

Editor’s note: The family’s names in this story have been changed to protect their identities.

BOTHELL — As soon as Luke could crawl up a couch, he was trying to jump off it.

His adoptive parents had to lock up everything in their house. Otherwise, he’d get in and wreak havoc. A few weeks ago, the 6-year-old accidentally put water in their car’s gas tank. His mother Joanne calls him a “sensory seeker.”

His older brother Jayden, 8, has such trouble sitting down to write he’ll break into tears.

These behaviors may seem small in isolation, but they add up, Joanne said.

Luke and Jayden are two of Joanne’s three adopted children who were exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb. Their younger sister, Anna, is 3. The boys, who had the same biological mother, were exposed to methamphetamine, opiates and alcohol. Anna was born addicted to heroin.

A pediatric nurse, Joanne knew they would need therapy. She didn’t realize how much.

“Parents are going through crisis after crisis and there’s nowhere to take your child and get the help that you need,” Joanne said.

That’s where the Hope RISING Clinic in Bothell came in. Opened in 2019, it’s the only clinic in the state dedicated to diagnosis and therapy for prenatal substance exposure. It works with both kids and their parents to find strategies to deal with the problems arising from exposure.

The clinic serves dozens of kids. One family even came from Japan for a diagnostic exam. But as a sign of the depth of the issue locally, the waitlist has sometimes counted up to 50 kids. Clinic manager Alex Lundy wants families to wait three months at most to get services, but due to lack of funding it can take six months or a year.

One in every 10 babies born in the United States has prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, said Lundy. And substance abuse is on the rise locally, she noted. At the same time, enrollment has grown at the clinic.

To meet demand, the clinic has doubled its staffing since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The clinic has about 16 staffers and eight consultants. Lundy wants more to make a dent in the extensive waitlist.

Mental health problems, like depression, attention-deficit disorders and alcohol or drug dependency, are frequently linked to people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, or FASDs.

The Snohomish family, Joanne said, has seen marked improvement since they started working with the clinic, a division of the Shoreline-based Wonderland Child & Family Services nonprofit. The issues don’t stop cropping up, but addressing them gets easier.

It used to take them an hour to put on their pajamas and brush their teeth. Now they have a better routine.

Between 1990 and 2014, Washington saw a three-fold increase in the rate of maternal hospital stays related to a substance use diagnosis, according to a 2016 report from the state Office of Financial Management. For newborns, there was a four-fold increase in newborns with a substance use-related diagnosis, like fetal alcohol syndrome and drug withdrawal syndrome.

The Everett area had one of the highest rates of expectant mothers using opiates, according to the report.

The overwhelming majority of the kids the Bothell clinic serves have been in foster care. Joanne was her three kids’ foster parent before adopting them, for example. She started caring for all of them within four months of their births.

“You fall in love with them,” she said. “They’re something else.”

Of 85,000 babies born in Washington each year, the clinic estimates up to 4,250 have FASDs. And of the 1.2 million students in the state’s public schools, as many as 57,000 are estimated to have FASD, said Lundy.

The disorders can cause many problems. For example, a 2004 study found 14% of young children and 61% of adolescents and adults reported a disrupted school experience. Over half of the adolescents had been suspended from school and 29% had been expelled. A quarter had dropped out.

“The disability is not something that you can visually see, so it’s often misunderstood,” Lundy said. “Our kids are misunderstood as being troublemakers, oppositionally defiant, having behavior issues, when really their brains work differently and we aren’t accommodating their world to match how their brains function.”

Trouble with the law is also common for those with FASDs. Again, 14% of children 6-11 reported trouble with police, while around 60% of adolescents and adults did, according to a University of Washington study from the 1990s.

Joanne said she thinks about these statistics every day.

“It’s different raising them,” Joanne said. “You love ‘em the same, but it’s definitely different. You need more help.”

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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