Opioid ‘Tsunami’ the Force Behind a Strained Foster Care System

It is an ever rising problem: opioid use. Opioid use has become an epidemic in our country and seems to be spiraling out of control. The impact on children service agencies: more opioid users lead to more children being born addicted or being neglected, which leads to more children in the foster care system, which leads to a greater need for more foster care families.

Judge Marilyn Moores  voiced her view regarding opioid addiction and its consequences: “This isn’t a trickle. This isn’t a wave. It’s a tsunami.” Moores has been a judge in Indianapolis for years and her caseloads have nearly tripled.

There are many, many stories of children finding their caregiver passed out or overdosed, about children being around open needles used for drug use of adults in their home. There is a story of a mother passed out in the driver’s seat of her car with her children in the back.

Previously, 60% of foster care cases led to reunification, but that number is now declining.  The drug epidemic is resulting in more adoptions from foster care because the parents cannot stay “clean” from drug use.  The number of children in foster care was shrinking until this drug epidemic gained power. “New foster care cases involving parents who are using drugs have hit the highest point in almost three decades of record-keeping, accounting for 92,000 children entering the system in 2016,” according to this news article.

This rise is again leading to other concerns, including the shortage of caseworkers, their overload of cases of families, and the number of available foster care families. Caseworkers are spread very thin and trying to juggle multiple families and children, while giving them the adequate attention they need, is almost impossible.

As stated, the number of foster care families is currently lacking because the number of children in care continues to rise. Agencies have started advertising for families, but it is hard to stay up with the need and foster families are not immediately available; they must complete home studies and complete training before children can be placed with them. Also, because more children are not able to be reunited with their biological family and are adopted by their foster family, it often removes existing foster families from the pool.

Everyone in the foster care community are “war weary” and our communities across the country are not seeing any relief from opioid use.