TAMPA, Fla. — Behind the battles of opioid addiction, there is an often-forgotten casualty to it all, innocent babies. Most are often born prematurely to drug-addicted mothers and are placed in the NICU with no one to come care or even hold them besides hospital staff.
“I met a baby at another hospital who had been in a crib alone for three weeks. Had not had any visitors or belongings and was lying in a diaper and a hospital blanket. When I first picked him up, he shook violently. He had never been really held or touched before,” says Katie McCarey.
McCarey is a Guardian Ad Litem in Hillsborough County. She got her youngest infant case last year and that is when her maternal instinct kicked in. She realized these babies needed to be engaged on a daily basis, so she pitched a baby SWAT team, short for swaddle, to local hospitals.
Nearly 30 SWAT volunteers go into Tampa Bay area hospitals every single day. They provide each child with comforting care that a parent would normally provide them. This includes holding them, feeding them, and reading stories.
McCarey says of the 150 NICU babies they have seen in the past year; 80% were born addicted to substances. The other 20% were some of the worst abuse cases.
She adds “The hardest part about this role is sometimes we have to hold babies who are pulled off life support. That is the hardest of it. We have to be there for it. They are so sick. There’s something really wrong with them.”
Every baby they see gets their room stocked with loving items to get them through their stay. All donated by Tampa Bay area non-profits and volunteers. McCarey says as the SWAT program expands, they would love to have more volunteers come on board.
For more information about the Guardian Ad Litem program in Hillsborough County you can click here.