The nation’s drug-addiction epidemic is driving a dramatic increase in the number of children entering foster care, forcing many states to take urgent steps to care for neglected children.
Several states, such as New Hampshire and Vermont, have either changed laws to make it possible to pull children out of homes where parents are addicted, or have made room in the budget to hire more social workers to deal with the emerging crisis.
Other states, such as Alaska, Kansas and Ohio, have issued emergency pleas for more people to become foster parents and take neglected children, many of them infants, into their homes.
“We’re definitely in a crisis, and we don’t see an end in sight any time soon,” said Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, a coalition of public child safety agencies in the state.
In many states in the East and parts of the Midwest, addiction to opioid painkillers and heroin is helping to drive the crisis in foster care. In other parts of the Midwest and in the West, abuse of methamphetamines is. Regardless of the source, states are scrambling to deal with the fallout on children:
In Georgia, where substance abuse is involved 40 percent of the time when children are removed from their family, the system is so overburdened that state child welfare officials have partnered with local churches to help foster families with everything from doing laundry to buying a crib.
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. By the time the children get to foster care, they report, many of the adults in their extended family are addicted to opiates, too.
In California, agencies in San Diego and Orange County have issued calls for people to become foster parents and take in neglected children.
In Massachusetts, where 9,500 children are in foster care, the opioid epidemic has hit “every socioeconomic situation and every city,” and the foster care system was ill-prepared to deal with it, said the state’s child advocate, Maria Moissades.
“For everyone, the crisis happened so quickly, there was no time to gear up,” said Moissades, whose agency ensures that children receive timely services and makes policy recommendations to better serve children in need. “No one knew it was going to be as big.”