How the opioid crisis is impacting foster care

July 17, 2019
Miranda Hester
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

 With parental substance use on the rise, in large part attributed to the opioid crisis, foster care is seeing an increased number of children being placed into its system, according to a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics.

With parental substance use on the rise, in large part attributed to the opioid crisis, foster care is seeing an increased number of children being placed into its system, according to a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers used the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System to find children who entered the foster care system from fiscal year (FY) 2000 to FY 2017 with parental drug use being the reason given for the child’s removal from home. The number of entries into the foster care system should not be considered the same as the number of children in the foster care system, as children may enter the system more than once.

A total of 4,972,911 foster care entries were found, of which 1,162,668 were home removals that occurred because of parental substance use. Over the course of the studied period, the number and ratio of foster care entries steadily increased, with 14.5% of all removals being linked to parental drug use in 2000 and 36% of removals being connected to parental drug use in 2017.

Looking more closely at the demographics, the researchers found that the affected children were more likely to be aged 5 years or younger, white, and from the South. They also noted that the characteristics of the children entering the system changed from FYs 2000-2005 to FYs 2012-2017 with increases in children who were white from 51% to 57.5%; who were from the Midwest from 18.8% to 25.3%; and who were from areas other than the city from 18.3% to 24.5%. These demographic changes were not found in any other reason for home removal.

The researchers concluded that the increase in entry because of substance use places an even heavier burden on the already struggling foster care system. They also highlighted the fact that children who are removed because of parental substance use are more likely to spend a longer time in foster care than children who were removed for other reasons.

 

Reunification with the parent is less likely when removal is linked to substance use. Researchers highlighted this as a special concern because many of the impacted children are aged younger than 5 years and still forming attachments.