The opioid crisis in America continues to claim more victims and, continues to destroy more families. This opioid epidemic claimed more than 33,000 deaths in the United States in 2015, as public health officials call it the worst drug crisis in the nation’s history. Indeed, the deaths from heroin alone have surged and have claimed more lives in 2015 than homicides by guns.
These drugs, these opioids, often begin with legal prescription medications, which are often used to block out pain. Whether illegal, such as heroin, or prescribed by doctors yet are also finding their way onto the black market, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, and even the newest danger known as The Gray Death, the rise in opioid use in America is both dramatic and disturbing.
With this crisis continuing to sweep across the nation, the foster care system is struggling. Indeed, as more parents are incarcerated due to drug and opioid usage, or even tragically lose their lives, thousands of more children are being placed into a foster care system throughout the nation, a system that is struggling to properly assist these children due to lack of resources, foster parents, and funding. As more children are being placed into care, the foster care system also faces the challenge of the shortage of foster parents and foster homes across the nation. With roughly 450,000 children in foster care across the nation, there are not enough foster homes, as foster care agencies face the challenge of recruitment and retention of foster parents.
Five states, in particular, stood out with the largest increases in foster care, much of it due to the opioid crisis. These states include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Minnesota, with these states accounting for 65 percent of the nationwide increase. Georgia had the largest increase and saw their number of children placed into state care rise almost double from 7600 in September 2013 to 13,266 in November of 2016. Indiana followed behind with the second largest increase, from 37 percent in 12,382 in 2013 to 17,023 in 2015. Minnesota saw an increase of children placed into their state foster care by 33 percent. The state of Florida saw an increase of children being placed into care between this time period of 24 percent. Finally, Arizona saw their numbers increase from 17,592 children placed into foster care to 18,657 during the same time period.
“Just looking at the headlines in every state, one can see that data showing that our foster care systems are bursting at the seams with the increases of children coming into care,” according to Connie Going, CEO of The Adoption Advocacy Center. “As the Child Welfare System reactively continues to increase their Foster Home capacity we have to remember these are tremendously traumatized, little children. Each one will become part of the larger system that doesn’t always find them quickly permanency. They will suffer more losses and trauma along the way. The answers won’t be found inside the system for all of them, but in proactively keeping them from entering Foster Care in the first place. Prevention is key.”
One of the reasons children are placed into foster care is due to parental drug abuse. According to the book Helping Foster Children in School: A Guide for Foster Parents, Social Workers, and Teachers, “those parents who abuse drugs and/or alcohol place their children in danger. This danger may result in neglect, physical abuse, or domestic violence.” Indeed, the larger number of children being placed into foster care, nationwide, is due much in part of an increase in parental drug usage and substance abuse, with Heroin use being the chief drug increasing among parents. Other substance abuse among parents include meth, cocaine and prescription medication abuse.
“Like most adult-oriented problems, the fallout lands on the kids,” said Chris Chmielewski, editor and owner of Foster Focus Magazine, “We saw this with crack and cocaine in the eighties. Ecstasy, Molly, and heroin in the 90s and now this two decades old pill and opiate craze. Ultimately, there is no way this doesn’t leave broken families and lost kids in its’ wake.”
Broken families, lost children, and a foster care system that can not meet the increasing demand; a system that can not keep up with this nationwide crisis.
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