There are thousands of devastating stories and anecdotal reports across the country linking the opioid epidemic to a crisis in child welfare and foster care. And yet, we do not have enough data to make a direct link. We can track if parental drug abuse is involved when a child enters the system, but federal child welfare data do not track what type of drug was being abused. The tracked data are typically two years old by the time they are collected, analyzed, and reported out, which limits organizations' insight into what is happening right now and their ability to affect change.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, "National data doesn't identify how many children are removed from their homes because of a parent's substance abuse. And there's no one standard for how states report substance abuse and child neglect. But many state officials say the surge in foster care cases is a direct result of the drug epidemic."
What if child welfare organizations could use technology to surface trend data that could help them understand and address the opioid epidemic, and even prevent a future crisis?
The Impact of Opioids on Child Welfare
First, how is the opioid epidemic impacting child welfare and foster care?
Foster-care experts say that as the drug epidemic has intensified during the past two years, another rush of children has entered the system. State budgets are stretched, social workers are overloaded, and not enough families are willing to provide children with temporary homes. The opioid crisis is straining the nation's foster-care systems.
President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency in August, following six states--Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia--that had already declared a state of emergency.
We can all agree; the issues are vast:
* Not enough resources. Resources are limited in every facet. There are not enough caseworkers to handle the volume and increasing complexity of cases, not enough foster homes to take in displaced children, and not enough funding for board and care costs or necessities like car seats when foster homes are available.
* Lacking support for parents. The recovery period for opioid addiction is longer and the chance of relapse is higher than other drug addictions. Often treatment is not readily available, which means termination of parental rights is more likely. Parents often face legal repercussions or incarceration that can also cause separation.