NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A rarely discussed consequence of the opioid crisis is shaking the lives of the community's youngest members.
The number of children in the foster care system has increased significantly as the opioid crisis has worsened. There are almost 500 children under the care of the Department of Social Services in New Hanover and Pender counties.
That number is fairly higher than years past when 300-350 kids were in the system.
"It's a much harder matter to overcome so we're having to place children mainly with family members," said Guardian ad-Litem Judy Hartz. "But there are some that end up being adopted because the parents just aren't able to recover and take over the responsibility to care for the children."
Hartz has volunteered as a Guardian ad-Litem for nearly two decades. With 19 cases and 39 children, she has heard stories that most couldn't imagine.
"It is amazing to watch them survive and overcome and they're just little miracle people to me. How they're able to do that, I'm not sure," said Hartz.
As a guardian, she is assigned cases and works as an advocate for the children. She conducts research, meets with the children and other parties involved, then ultimately makes a recommendation for what she believes will the most beneficial course of action for the child.
The job is a difficult one, but Hartz's passion to help children in need keeps her going.
"Helping them just to feel safe and that they don't have to worry about their life being in danger or being abused," she said. "It's just hard to imagine that someone who is supposed to care for these children is causing so much harm."
With more drugs on the streets, and more children in foster care, the Guardian ad-Litems have worked closely with other community leaders to find solutions.
"I see our community stepping up, our law enforcement, District Attorney, they're all working hard," Hartz said.
Nineteen years after retiring, Hartz is working as hard as ever to be a champion for these children. As long as there is work to be done, she does not plan on stopping.
"There's a lot of children out there that need your help, so I'll keep doing it as long as I can," Hartz said.