Drug addiction, especially to opioids, is behind a substantial increase in children entering the foster care system across the U.S. This dramatic surge is causing a crisis that’s forcing many states to change laws, as well as partner with local agencies, in order to care for children in need.
Drug Addiction and Foster Care: A Problem Across the Country
The opiate addiction epidemic currently spreading across this country is one of the worst drug crises in history, killing nearly 27,000 people a year, according to Frontline. It affects people of all races, ages and income brackets, and it’s leaving many states across the nation scrambling to help the unthought-of victims: children.
“In Ohio, where more than 9,900 children are in foster care and nearly half of those taken into custody last year had a parent using drugs, case workers are having a hard time placing children with relatives,” according to PBS. “By the time the children get to foster care…many of the adults in their extended family are addicted to opiates, too.”
Ohio isn’t the only state dealing with this issue. In Georgia, substance abuse is involved 40 percent of the time when children are removed from their homes. In California, specifically San Diego and Orange County, agencies have called for more people to become foster parents to help meet the growing need.
The issue is even more dire in Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe, “the number of petitions filed by DCF to have children removed from their homes jumped by 38 percent, from 2,459 to 3,383, between 2011 and 2015.”
This has caused the state to hold large-scale recruitment events to bring more foster parents into the mix. But even the 11 percent increase in foster homes statewide isn’t enough to meet the influx of children entering the system. That’s why Massachusetts has also granted increased waivers allowing more than four foster children in a single home.
According to the Globe, Massachusetts’ Department of Children and Families granted 172 “overcapacity waivers” — generally to allow more than four foster children in a single home — between October 2014 and October 2015, up from 118 over the previous 12-month period.”
These waivers allow parents to take in 6 foster children and have 8 children total in their home. Some critics have argued that these waivers put children in potentially dangerous situations, pointing to the tragic death of a 2-year-old and the grievous injuring of a 22-month-old child after a waiver was inappropriately granted to a foster parent.
New Jersey is not immune to opiate problems. According to an NJ.com story, if you took every person addicted to heroin in NJ and put them in one place, it would be the state’s fourth largest city with a population of 128,000.
Many children throughout the state are entering foster care because their parents have either been jailed for drugs or are in drug treatment programs.
“We’re up to 750 children in Ocean County living in foster care,” Vicki Weiss, executive director of the nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children of Ocean County, told 101.5.com in March. “Over the last five years, that number has nearly doubled.”
Drug use is also one of the main reasons children are placed into foster homes in Monmouth County, Cindi Van Brunt, executive director of CASA for Children of Monmouth County, told 101.5.
The issue of opioid addiction, in NJ and across the country, is complicated and there are no fixes coming overnight. The key, many experts argue, is licensing more drug addiction treatment providers while educating the public about the dangers of opioid prescription medications. However, for kids currently coming into care due to this crisis, they need safe homes to take them in. They need foster parents.
To become a foster parent in NJ, click here.
If you are outside of NJ, visit your local foster care agency.