Chasnoff speaking

Dr. Ira Chasnoff speaks Friday, Dec. 1, at Chesapeake College about supporting caregivers of children affected by substance abuse.

WYE MILLS — Local social workers, child care providers and educators attended a conference to learn about supporting caregivers of children affected by substance abuse, Friday, Dec. 1, at Chesapeake College.

Hosted by the Maryland Governor’s Office for Children and the Caroline Human Services Council, in partnership with the Mid-Shore Local Management Boards, Upper Shore Judy Centers and Chesapeake College, the conference brought Dr. Ira Chasnoff, a pediatrician and leading researcher in the field of child development and the effect of maternal drug and alcohol abuse on children.

Chasnoff’s presentation, “The Mystery of Risk: Drugs, Alcohol, Pregnancy and the Vulnerable Child,” aimed to help those who assist families, whether through government agencies, daycare centers or schools, understand the issues faced by affected children and their parents.

Grants helped pay for Chasnoff’s appearance, and funded the $15 attendance fee for many of the participants, many of whom received credit for continuing professional education.

Chasnoff began his presentation by talking about Leonard, a 17-year-old boy he met through his practice in Chicago. Leonard was born to a mother battling a drug addiction, and he and his younger brother had been in and out of foster placements for most of their lives. He had also joined a gang, been arrested multiple times and served time in jail, Chasnoff said.

Leonard was evaluated for two days by a team of experts, Chasnoff said. He had facial features indicating Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, low cognitive function, gang tattoos and scarring from stab wounds suffered in jail.

But, Chasnoff said, the most interesting test result came from one given by a psychiatrist, who asked Leonard to draw a picture of any person who came to mind.

Leonard drew himself, but in a position like an infant, with “Feed me” written across his torso.

“He was looking for the nurturing he never had,” Chasnoff said.

Six weeks later, Chasnoff said, Leonard was arrested again, for dealing cocaine, and sentenced to stay in jail until he is almost 30.

Chasnoff said he shared Leonard’s story to make a point.

“Children grow and develop in the context of relationships,” he said.

He then launched a PowerPoint presentation on the topic, exploring how a pregnant woman’s environmental factors, like extreme stress, and habits, like chronic drug use, can affect a fetus and, later, the child’s brain function.

He also discussed different educational interventions and their effectiveness, and possible treatments.

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