Foster System Was Shrinking. Then the Opioid Crisis Began

92K kids entered foster care system because of parental drug use in 2016
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 12, 2017 12:47 PM CST
Shawnee Wilson holds her son, Kingston, in her apartment, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, in Indianapolis. Kingston was born in 2016, and it took a month for doctors to wean him off the heroin Wilson exposed him...   (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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(Newser) – Across the US, soaring use of opioids has forced tens of thousands of children from their homes, creating a generation of kids abandoned by addicted parents, orphaned because of fatal overdoses, or torn from fractured families by authorities fearful of leaving them in drug-addled chaos. "This isn't a trickle. This isn't a wave. It's a tsunami," says Indianapolis Judge Marilyn Moores of a child welfare system grappling with an unprecedented crush of parental drug cases—and newly released stats back that up. New foster care cases involving parents who are using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping, accounting for 92,000 children entering the system in 2016, according to new data from the US Department of Health and Human Services cited by the AP.

The crisis is so severe—with a 32% spike in drug-related cases from 2012 to 2016—it reversed a trend that had the foster care system shrinking in size over the preceding decade. All told, about 274,000 children entered foster care in the US last year. A total of 437,000 children were in the system as of Sept. 30, 2016. Though substance abuse has long been an issue for child welfare officials, this is the most prolific wave of children affected by addiction since crack cocaine use surged in the 1980s. Among the states with the biggest one-year increases in their foster care population were Georgia, West Virginia, and Indiana. In Indiana, Moores is still haunted by the story of a 2-year-old found alone at home with his father's corpse, a needle still poking from his arm. A neighbor was drawn in by the boy's relentless wails. The AP has much more on the crisis here.


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