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The number of kids in foster care is growing and parents' drug abuse is mainly to blame



The number of children in foster care has continued to grow for four years in a row, and it is mostly due to drug abuse by parents.

“The opioid crisis has been a big part in the influx of a huge number of children coming in to the system," said Cynthia Booth, CEO of Indiana's Child Advocates, an organization that helps train volunteers appointed by a judge to be advocates for children in the foster care system.

In 2015, there were about 427,000 children in foster care, but that number jumped up by 10,000 kids in 2016 to about 437,000, according to the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Of all the reasons states can cite for why a child was removed from their home, drug abuse by parents had the largest percentage increase, and about 92,000 children were removed from their homes in 2016 because of a parent's substance abuse.

“Also, they stay around longer because if you have a parent who is so addicted to that drug, the chances of them relapsing are pretty good, and relapsing numerous times,” said Booth.

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The increase in children coming into the system has also been a drain on resources.

"It taxes the court staff, not enough court reporters, not enough hearing officers, not enough of everything because all of a sudden you have these kids just pouring into the system,” said Booth.

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And foster parents like Tobi Beck have also experienced the strain the opioid crisis has had on the child welfare system.

“We’ve had some amazing kids, and some of them they are from an opioid crisis, and as we were watching the ramp up of the opioid crisis in Indiana, again we are seeing the foster care system swamped with kids whose parents are no longer capable of taking care of them,” said Beck, who is also running for Congress in Indiana.

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Beck said her and her husband have had a few dozen foster kids come through their home, and those with parents who have addiction issues sometimes come with their own set of challenges.

“We had one group of kids a set of teenagers that came to us, their mom and dad was out of the picture he was in prison already on drug related charges, mom had recently been picked up she was an addict and she had gone to a rehabilitative service in house,” said Beck. “Where are the teenagers? They only know their parents as examples and for their parents the solution was to become drugged.”

The number of kids adopted from 2015 to 2016 have also increased, but only by 3,000, which is much lower than the added 10,000 to the system in that same time.

And though people like Beck can help make a difference in a child’s life by being a foster parent, Booth is working on a solution to hopefully get kids out of the system quicker.

“We are hopeful we can identify cases, or we can sweep out to the system to either a kinship care provider or family member much more quickly so the children aren’t in the system as long and they are back with family," Booth said. "So, we are hopeful that that will be a way that we can address the number of children coming into the system because of opioid use."

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