Parental Drug Abuse Sent More Than 85,000 Kids Into Foster Care In 2015

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Rampant drug abuse in the U.S. is causing a crisis for social workers dealing with a massive influx of children displaced by parental addiction.

After steady declines between 2009 and 2012 U.S. Social Services agencies experienced a sharp increase of children in need of foster care. Officials blame drug abuse, particularly addiction to painkillers and heroin. Drug addiction is now the second leading cause for removal from parental custody, following child neglect, which social workers note is often exacerbated by drug use in the home, reports the Associated Press.

A staggering 85,937 children went into foster care due to parental drug use in the U.S. in 2015, according to data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

“Fifteen years ago you would’ve seen probably about 60 percent physical abuse and about 20 percent drug abuse,” Lee Hodge, part of the Department of Social Services in Pueblo, Colo., told the AP. “Well now that’s flipped. We’ve seen where children are wandering around and the parents, frankly, are inside sleeping or are inside high on drugs when they have a 3 or a 5-year old wandering the neighborhood.”

Colorado is one of a number of states where social services are getting hit particularly hard by the national opioid epidemic. Officials in Pueblo say drug abuse in responsible for 45 percent of all the cases they see, and the numbers continue to rise. They are also finding a growing number of children and adolescents who are sent into foster care for their own abuse problems, often involving heroin.

The Colorado Department of Health and Human Services found roughly 6.3 percent of teens in Pueblo used heroin at least once in 2015.

“All of our other numbers are going down in terms of out-of-home placement, but the ones caused by substance abuse have gone up and up and up,” Tim Hart, director of social services in Pueblo, Colo., told the AP. “We have the direct effects by parental use and then we have an increase of placements because the kids are using.”

The scourge of heroin abuse is also causing a sharp increase in the number of babies born with addiction to opioids. Social services in the greater Cincinnati region of Ohio, which is ravaged by addiction, are sounding the alarm on the damage the opioid epidemic is having on children in their community. Roughly 3.3 percent of babies born in the region are exposed to opioids while in the womb.

Officials in Ohio say opioids are the main driver of a 19 percent spike in the number of kids removed from parental custody for foster care since 2010 across the state.

In Wisconsin the rate of babies born exposed to opioids more than quadrupled over the past decade. Officials recorded 598 babies born with an opioid addiction in 2015, up from 142 cases in 2006. In Missouri at least 8 in 1,000 babies born will now suffer opioid withdrawals, an increase of 538 percent since 2006.

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