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How the Opioid Crisis is Changing the Foster Care System

Opiate addiction is causing an increase in the number of children in foster care.

Opiate addiction is causing an increase in the number of children in foster care.

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When you think of foster care, what images come to mind? For many, one of the first images is the stereotypical scene of children being wrenched from a mother’s arms and thrust into a system where they will be shuffled from home to home for the rest of their childhood.

In truth, this has happened.

Pushing More Children Into the System

The opioid epidemic has resulted in more and more children entering the foster care system. In 36 states, caseloads have risen by risen by 10% between 2012 and 2016. In Washington state alone, the number of children removed from homes due to parental drug abuse rose 26% between 2012 and 2017. Recent data reveals “there are more children in foster care this year than there have been in the last nine years.”

But it doesn’t have to be like this!

Some states are trying to change these statistics. New approaches are being taken that focus on reducing the trauma of separation and helping parents complete drug treatment. The hope is to get parents the help they need, heal families and keep them together.

New Approaches For Addicted Parents

In the past, children have been removed from parents as they complete treatment. States such as Colorado and New Jersey are rethinking this approach. Many feel this simply doubles the trauma for both parent and child. Instead, states are offering programs that allow kids to remain with parents in treatment. Other options include a combination of care by relatives and the parent. Meanwhile, the parent receives mental health services to help them achieve recovery.

The DCFS in Nebraska has launched a Mom and Me program, which provides long-term residential treatment for moms while allowing them to remain with children under the age of nine.

In some states, if a child is exposed to substances that a mother uses, this is considered a form of child abuse. In New Jersey, state services do not use this definition. As a result, the state can provide more assistance to adults and their children in these situations.

In nearby D.C., similar efforts are being made. Their kinship care program allows relatives to take in children whom the courts have deemed at risk rather than assign them to the state. Drug treatment programs funded by Medicaid have also been initiated.

With these initiatives and others, such as Colorado’s Lift the Label campaign, states are seeking to reduce the stigma associated with drug abuse. The hope is to encourage parents to get help. This, in turn, will help the children and will reduce the number of kids forced into foster care. Across the nation, more and more efforts are focused on treatment, recovery and reunification.

Learn more about treatment options for opioid addiction.


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