The opioid epidemic touches West Virginia’s young and old, but often the children of addicts are the most vulnerable victims. That’s why a youth advocacy organization is hosting a training conference in Charleston, to arm adults with the skills they need to protect West Virginia’s kids.
As a teenager Angie Conn ran away from home, but she never expected what would come next- she became the victim of human trafficking.
“As a teenage I went through a lot of sexual violence. I had several sexual assault at 14, 15 and kind of set me those vulnerabilities up in me to allow predators and traffickers to come in and exploit those,” Conn told 13 News.
Now Conn is raising the issue of trafficking right here in the Mountain State, especially when it comes to addicts using kids for drug money.
“You’re going to see people in families that are exploiting children, because that’s there resource to be able to trade children. It’s horrific and we don’t want to look at that and face that, but it happens,” Conn explained.
But the reality is, even if this abuse doesn’t happen, there are a host of other risks for children of addicts.
“Because of the opioid epidemic, there is a surge of youth in foster care and youth in kinship care. And what we do know is youth that are involved in the foster care system, including kinship care, are more at risk for teen pregnancy,” Torri Childs, Evaluation Consultant with AMCT & Associates told 13 News.
While it may seem hopeless, there are things you can do to help. If you work with kids, pay attention to red flags.
“Look for changes in performance at school, absenteeism, a change in peer group is another really big warning sign that something is going on, whether it’s with them or their family,” Childs added.
You can also volunteer, “people can look, where are the vulnerable populations in West Virginia? You’ve got your homeless shelters and your foster care systems and places where vulnerable people are- and they can jump in and help right there,” Conn explained.
These conversations are happening at a 2-day conference at the Charleston Civic Center hosted by Mission WV’s THINK program. The initiative educations about 18,000 kids each year, mostly through health classes in West Virginia.