The opioid crisis could cost the United States more than $500 million over the next three years. Not to mention, it has already cost billions of dollars, plus lives. Now, more children are being placed in foster care because of this drug use.
Drug Use and Foster Care
The number of children being placed in foster care due to parental drug use has more than doubled in the last 20 years, a 147 percent increase, to be exact. A new study, which took a look at 5 million foster care cases, analyzed how many cases were due to parental drug use.
“A lot of the work out there [on the opioid epidemic] has focused on mortality and overdoses and how it affects adults,” said Angelica Meinhofer, lead author of the study. “[It’s] less known how the epidemic might spill over to children. And that’s something I’m trying to shed light on.”
Between 2000 and 2017, the rate of kids being removed from the home for abuse, neglect, or any other reason declined. However, the instances of children being removed because of drug use in the home increased from 15 percent to 36 percent during that period. Additionally, the children impacted by removal due to drug use are younger than kids removed for other reasons. Those removed for parental drug use were typically under the age of five.
Does This Have Anything to Do With The Opioid Epidemic?
Parental drug use was responsible for more than 1 million entries into the foster care system. That is 23 percent of all the children admitted to foster care during that period of time.
It is easy to tie the opioid epidemic into the increase. Meinhofer believes there may be other contributing factors that may help explain the upward trend. Drug use overall has increased during that period of time. Because of this, policies that increase child removal have changed and child social workers are asked to pay more attention to drug use. This, as well as other altered data collection, may have an impact on the findings.
“We hope our findings will provoke researchers to ask … what’s causing this growth, what are the implications of this growth and whether or not our system has to absorb the capacity of increasing foster care loads,” Meinhofer stated.
Is There a Solution?
For more than a decade, children in the foster care system were on the decline. Between 2012 and 2017, it began on this upward trend. During that period the number of foster care children in the system increase by 8 percent and opioid use was on the rise. But, separating children from their parents long-term through the foster care system is never optimal.
If social workers have a child removed from the home, one of the best things they could do is seek help for the drug-using parent(s). Certain special programs within the family drug court system help provide supervised treatment for substance abuse. They can help the parent(s) get clean and regain custody.