Explosive growth in the use of heroin is straining the nation’s child welfare systems – especially foster care, according to the Stateline news service operated by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In a recent article Stateline reported that heroin use is on the rise dramatically across the country, and officials in Ohio and Vermont point to two resulting trends – more children are being placed in foster care due to a parent’s addiction to opiates, and beating the addiction may take a parent more time than the system allows for reunification before the child is put up for adoption.
The situation is all too familiar to Ken Olson, executive director of KidsPeace Maine services. Olson cites a recent Washington Post article that reported “Maine is at the burning core” of a national heroin epidemic.
“Heroin abuse in Maine is soaring, and the result is increasing numbers of kids in foster care,” Olson said. “And we’re seeing a new trend – many more babies and toddlers of drug-affected families coming into the system than before.” He adds that KidsPeace’s just-announced contract to recruit foster parents throughout Maine “specifically calls for us to do targeted recruitment of foster families who can serve drug-affected babies and infants, due to this increased need.”
Responding to the strains put on the system by the rise in heroin use will require agencies like KidsPeace to be more “co-occurring capable,” to serve kids and families who struggle with both mental health issues and substance abuse. “Our foster care programs need to be expert in how to work with biological families affected by substance abuse, if we are to achieve goals of reunification and family stabilization for these youth in foster care,” Olson notes. “Alternatively, we have to make sure our substance abuse expertise is appropriate to help inform our decisions regarding which youth need a different path to permanency.”
In response to this challenge, KidsPeace foster care in Maine has increased staff training on handling co-occurring conditions. Still, Olson says, the growth in heroin use will need to be factored into strategic planning for foster care going forward.