Nearly 250 Butler and Warren county residents died last year from drug overdoses, and about 80 percent were heroin-related. The number of deaths appears headed in the same direction after the first quarter of 2016, the coroner’s offices said last week.
While the statistics can be staggering, one Butler County child advocate said she’s also concerned about the welfare of the children left behind, whom she called the innocent victims.
For the last 40 years — more than half of her life — Barbara Condo, founder and executive director of One Way Farm Children’s Home in Fairfield, has provided respite, housing and care to the most badly beaten, physically and sexually abused children in the state.
Since 1976, she has cared for 10,000 children, and she can’t remember a time when any social ill has choked a community like heroin. She said the scourge of this drug has become a societal problem since children are involved, not just an addict problem.
“We have lost a generation,” said Condo, 78, “No matter how bad the parents are, you always had that, ‘I’ll help you, you help me.’ Now that’s gone.”
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What goes through Condo’s mind when she thinks about heroin?
“Kids without parents,” she said, quickly. “All over a needle. You got a problem so big that it’s like looking at the universe: You know it’s out there. You don’t know the end.”
Condo, who called herself an advocate for children, declined to release the exact number of her 20 residents — 10 boys, 10 girls — whose parents are addicted to heroin or other drugs. But she has seen a measurable increase.
She also doesn’t allow the residents to talk to the media.
“Have to protect them,” was her reasoning.
When children lose their parents to a needle or a lengthy incarceration, they sometimes end up in a group home, possibly separated by their siblings, Condo said. She said that can be “devastating” because a 12-year-old girl, now without her brothers or sisters, has no one to nurture.
“It’s like a mother losing a child,” Condo said. “They cry like that.”
Or a worse scenario.
For instance, Condo said, there may be an 11-year-old girl at home caring for her two younger siblings, and while fixing breakfast, she tells her drug-addicted mother there is no food in the refrigerator. As a way to make money, the mother introduces her daughter to sex trafficking. Younger children, Condo said, are highly recruited by sex traffickers because they know the child is disease free.
The child, unlike her mother, hasn’t shared a dirty needle.
Other times, the child is just abandoned.
“They have no hope,” Condo said. “They have days when they are hopeless.”
Children between 8 to 18 years old are permitted to reside at One Way Farm for one to two years. There are strict rules that are neatly printed and taped in every room in the homes. Homework comes first. Followed by chores. TV is a privilege and children are not permitted to watch violent shows.
The 10 boys sleep in one house; the 10 girls in another. They are supervised around the clock.
Condo allows the girls to have cats in their house. She said cats serve as confidants.
“They can lay with the cats and tell them anything they want to,” she said. “The cats are part of the healing process. The cats love unconditionally. There are no questions asked. A child will tell their most hidden secrets to cats. Once they see that we’re caring for the cats, they begin to trust again.”
Condo, who grew up in Appalachian, Ky., said as a child she had “a horrible life.” She lived on the street when she was 8. She has turned that tragedy into triumph. She uses that background as a springboard to help others.
“I know why they are really hurting,” she said. “They have been cheated out of their childhood. It’s gonna stay with you; it doesn’t mean it will control your life. The trust factor is a big thing with them.”
She also is concerned about the repercussions of heroin. Eventually, the children of addicts will be adults, she said, but it’s impossible to predict their lifestyle.
“These kids all lost the nurturing at home,” she said. “We never saw it like it is today. There is no reasoning for what is happening now. The victims are children.”
Condo said people often ask why she’s fighting a winless war. She can’t save all the kids, they tell her.
“You can save a portion of them,” she responds. “You have to give them a reason to live. Any child here the Lord allowed them to come here. We’re here to rescue them and salvage them.”