The Opioid Epidemic Is Straining Foster Care Systems Across The Country

It's a downward spiral with no easy resolution.

Meghan Rivard September 24, 2017
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There is a spiraling epidemic in this country, one with consequences affecting an alarming number of people. And unless you live in a closet, you probably know it is opioid abuse and addiction, which has especially become more serious in the rural areas of the country.

A distressing side effect of the epidemic is the children left without care because their drug-addicted parents are not able to function, and an increasing number of children born with a drug addiction. This has created serious issues with the Children Services Departments in each state because of the large increase in the number of children that need foster care. There are just simply not enough foster care parents or social workers to respond to the increasing demands being placed on the child welfare system.  

According to an article by the Washington Post, “more than 1,000 children are born addicted to drugs in Maine each year, many of whom end up in foster care . . . There are more than 1,800 in foster care across the state in 2016, a nearly 45 percent increase in foster children here since 2011.” And this increase is happening in almost every state across the country.

Being born addicted is not temporary, but has an enduring and dramatic effect on children. The article continues, “A 2015 study from the National Institute of Health, has found that children exposed to opiates during pregnancy suffer from behavior and attention problems. Such children require therapy and often specially licensed and trained foster families, and states say they are struggling to recruit foster families to house them.”

Another article from Circa shared the story of Janet Siemer. She presently has two foster children who were born addicted and is pursuing their adoption. She tells of their hard and painful withdrawal symptoms. Janet stated, “The reason I became a foster parent is that I saw everyday how heroin affects families and there were children in need of foster care. But I also love children, so why not?”

What steps need to be taken to help and protect these children?  A question without an answer. More children are entering the foster care system, but agencies are lacking in resources: foster families to house the children, sufficient staff to provide case management, and adequate funds.

The Washington post stated, “In just one year, nearly 1.3 million Americans needed hospital care for opioid-related issues.” Unfortunately, it has become a revolving cycle. Children addicted as babies have a higher rate of using drugs as an adult. The nation is attempting to address the problem, but there is no easy answer.

Some families turn to foster care as a means of adoption. However, another complication brought forth by drug addiction is that it complicates the adoption process as it becomes harder to terminate the parents’ rights. Physical abuse of the child is easier to judge, but will the biological parents adhere to their drug treatment programs or will they relapse and then relapse again?  These are hard issues to resolve.

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Meghan Rivard

Meghan is an adoptive mother and a big advocate of adoption and foster care. She resides in Indiana with her husband, their one-year-old daughter who is the center of their lives, and their dog Max. She has a Bachelor's and Master’s Degree in Social Work. Meghan stays at home with her daughter but is so happy she found this outlet to share her personal adoption story and educate about adoption!


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