Addiction is Killing the Country’s Foster Care System

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

The story has become all too common. A parent gets hooked on opiates. They’re no longer able to care for their child. The child’s neglected, abused, or abandoned. They end up in foster care. As chemical dependency sweeps the nation, state foster care systems are scrambling to keep up with an influx of children.

Just how fast is this need growing? A look at recent stats shows roughly 15,000 more kids were in foster care in 2014 than in 2013. Some states have seen as much as a 25 percent increase. This explosion is stretching foster services to their limits. Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, explains, “We’re definitely in a crisis, and we don’t see an end in sight any time soon.”

A Rising Tide of Impacted Children

Several factors contribute to this growing need for foster care. In the end, state officials say it all ties back to the drug epidemic.

For example, last year, more than half of all children (under the age of six) who were placed in Vermont foster care came from homes wrecked by opioid abuse. The state now has more children in this age bracket within its foster care system than ever before.

Changes in laws have further contributed to the increase. Several states have adjusted their laws, allowing officials to pull children out of homes where parents are actively abusing opiates. Additionally, new federal laws require hospitals to notify child protective services if infants are affected by prenatal substance exposure. This move has increased the number of infants in foster care and reduced the median age of children in the system.

Officials also note children are staying in foster care much longer than before, adding even more strain to the system.

In Response To the Crisis

States are trying various tactics to keep up with this increased demand for services. Some, such as New Hampshire and Vermont, have boosted budgets to hire more social workers. Kansas, Ohio and Alaska have issued emergency pleas to the public, asking for people to become foster parents. Similar calls were issued in California. Child welfare officials in Georgia are partnering with local churches to help provide foster families with childcare needs.

Case workers have also tried to involve extended family to help with placement for these children. The problem is, many adults in their extended families are addicted to opiates, too.

Massachusetts state child advocate, Maria Moissades explains, “…the opioid epidemic has hit every socioeconomic situation and every city and the foster care system was ill-prepared to deal with it.”

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is trying to strengthen the state’s foster care system with additional funds and more social workers. Shumlin recognizes the epidemic the system is facing. His summary of the crisis is depressingly accurate, “We’re losing the battle, not winning it. The children are the biggest victims.”

Additional Reading:   The Fallout – Grandparents Forced to Become Parents Again

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