Foster Care Entries for Parental Drug Use Surge

INCIDENTS OF CHILDREN entering America's foster system as a result of their parents' drug use have surged since 2000, new research shows, coinciding with the country's recent opioid crisis.

Using case data from the federally mandated Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, researchers from Cornell and Harvard universities found that 1,162,668 – or nearly 24% – of 4,972,911 entries of children into foster care between fiscal years 2000 and 2017 were home removals attributable to parental drug use.

The number and share of such scenarios also grew "dramatically and steadily" over that time, the study says, from 39,130 of 269,382 removals (14.5%) in 2000 to 96,672 of 266,583 removals (36.3%) in 2017.

The overall increase occurred "even when entries for other removal reasons mostly declined," the study says.

"These findings suggest that greater parental drug use has contributed to increases in foster care caseloads and coincide with increasing trends in opioid use and overdose deaths nationwide during this period," the study says.

The data additionally showed that kids entering foster care as a result of their parents' drug use were more likely to be 5 years old or younger, white and from the South, according to the study, published Monday by JAMA Pediatrics.

The authors acknowledged that factors other than parental drug use could have contributed to the number of foster care entries attributed to that reason.

Still, they said, "foster care placement generally implies that a child has faced abuse or neglect," with adverse childhood experiences such as parental drug use increasing "the risk of chronic health conditions and other poor outcomes" throughout people's lives.

"When children enter foster care because of parental drug use, episode duration is longer and less likely to result in reunification with the parent," according to the study. "This is of special concern because of the large proportion of children experiencing entry before age 5 years, a critical period for forming stable attachments."

By Katelyn Newman

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