By: Steve Birr
The American foster care system is in a state of crisis, strained by a massive influx of children since 2011 fueled by the opioid epidemic and general drug abuse.
Social services in almost every state across the country are experiencing increases in children needing foster care, and officials are nearing a breaking point. Officials report a roughly 45 percent spike in the number of foster children since 2011 in Maine, which had more than 1,800 kids in foster care in 2016. In North Dakota the number of kids removed from parental custody to foster care jumped 27 percent since 2011, reports The Washington Post.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in 2015 that roughly 428,000 kids were in foster care, and note that number has likely experienced a significant increase due to skyrocketing drug abuse rates in 2016. Opioid dependence is also becoming more prevalent in newborn babies whose parents are addicts. More than 1,000 kids are born annually in Maine suffering from drug withdrawal.
It’s heartbreaking to watch a baby go through withdrawal, and then give that baby back to Mom, Deb McLaughlin, a foster parent to her grandchildren, told WaPo. Because she did that to her.
McLaughlin cares for her 3-year-old grandson and 1-year-old foster daughter after the state deemed her daughter unfit to provide for them. She used to give the baby daily shots of methadone to treat withdrawals, but the infant is progressing.
Drug addiction complicates the placement of kids in the foster system, because parents who get clean can earn the chance to win back custody in certain cases.
More than 60 percent of foster children in Ohio, a state suffering high opioid abuse rates, are there for reasons related to parental drug use.
There are not enough caseworkers, and there is not enough funding, Danylle Carson, a lawyer in Maine who represents kids in foster care, told WaPo. These are signs of a system crashing.
After steady declines between 2009 and 2012, U.S. Social Services agencies experienced a sharp increase of children in need of foster care. Drug addiction is now the second leading cause for removal from parental custody, following child neglect, which social workers note is often exacerbated by drug use in the home.
A staggering 85,937 children entered foster care due to parental drug use in the U.S. in 2015, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.
Experts are not optimistic the drug crisis will slow anytime soon. The New York Times recently combed through data from state health departments and county medical examiners and coroners, predicting there were between 59,000 and 65,000 drug deaths in 2016.
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