With drug addiction hurting her family, Dayton woman adopts her sister's five children

With drug addiction hurting her family, Dayton woman adopts her sister's five children (WKEF/WRGT)

HUBER HEIGHTS, Ohio (WRGT/WKEF) -- The opioid epidemic has impacted countless families across the country and often robs children of their parents and their childhood. A Dayton woman saw the same thing happening to her four nephews and niece and decided to do something about it by fighting for custody of all five children. That's why Cheyene Carlton is Someone You Should Know.

Carlton grew up with the shadow of drug addiction surrounding her family.

"I grew up as my mom went to prison and my dad was non-existent," Carlton said. "And so I never let that determine what I was going to become. And I think that was the biggest thing for me. I was going to go to college. I was not going to be on drugs."

Carlton's siblings though, did fall into drugs. Her brother died of an overdose and her sister also became an addict, leaving her five children to grow up in a world no child should.

"They were missing school, they were missing doctors appointments, it was bad," Carlton said. "They were really getting off to a road that would have not lead them to a bright future. I just kept seeing history repeating itself over and over again and I just did not want want to see the same for those kids."

It is a world some children in our area and across the country deal with everyday; opioid-addicted parents, neglecting them.

"They cannot, because of the brain disease, put their children at the forefront of their priorities," Jewell Good with Montgomery County Job and Family Services said.

Good says her agency sees it all the time. On a given day so far this year, the county has 638 kids in custody. Although there's not an exact number on how many are there because of their parents struggling with addiction, Good says the cases are heartbreaking.

"When you come into contact with people who aren't willing to help themselves, that's hard to understand one," Good said. "But if they're not willing to help themselves for the benefit of their children that's even harder to wrap your head around. My staff is now doing death notifications to children. Which if you've ever had to do that, it's the hardest thing in the universe."

There comes a point Good says, when the kids need to be removed from their parents and that's what happened to Carlton's four nephews and niece in the fall of 2016. The situation with their mom had become too much to bear.

"I was so close with the kids that I could not imagine them being put into foster care," Carlton said. "I could not do that to them."

The then 21-year-old made a choice to fight for custody of now 13-year-old Donovan, 10-year-old Eddie, 7-year-old DeWayne, 4-year-old Ryland and 18-month-old Layla. Carlton said she knew there would challenges including her age and space for the kids to live in. Carlton was also studying to be nurse through Wright State.

"I don't even think being our age was even a factor," Carlton said. "It was just I matured quick. Mike my longtime boyfriend, he was raised by a single mom so he knew these kids needed somebody."

So Carlton and her boyfriend Mike attacked the custody process.

"We went through tons of court dates," Carlton said. "Tons of just, you know working with children's services, going to meetings and having meetings and visits with my sister. And everything kind of worked out. "

For the next year, Carlton and Mike were awarded temporary custody.

"They were not in a very good situation with their mom," Carlton said. "They got to get out of that situation and get stability and have a bedroom and have their own space and not have a worry about where the next meal is coming from. Or if water is going to be on or not. So they've really appreciated the stability."

Good says stability and that unconditional love is what children like these and others in similar situations need more than anything.

"The feeling that no matter what I do, they're going to love me," Good said. "And they're going to stand by me. And they're going to protect me."

Carlton says the children adjusted quickly and thrived in their new environment.

"They are just resilient kids," Carlton said. "They've just bounced back. I've been amazed at how well they've done. They'll make me and Mike cards. They'll say you know, we're so happy to live with you or we love you guys."

Carlton graduated from nursing school in December of 2017. Then in February of this year, she was awarded full custody. An emotional moment for her but even more so for her children.

"I think about Cheyene as a mother figure because my mom wasn't around," Carlton's 10-year-old nephew Eddie told us before becoming overwhelmed with emotion.

"It's a good thing for me," Carlton said. "It's a positive for me. I'm not stressed out. I'm not worried about them. And it's rewarding for me and for them. As long as they're healthy and happy and successful and drug free that's my biggest goal for them. And that means the world to me."

For more information on how you can become a foster parent or adopt through Montgomery County, click here

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