What about the Rise in Foster Care Placements?

Resource family recruitment and retention is vitally important, but it’s only part of the equation. What is behind the rise in the foster care population?

Our national struggle with opioid misuse is one likely cause. Overdoses, a measure of the seriousness of this epidemic, have risen dramatically in recent years. In the U.S., overdoses involving opioids killed 33,100 in 2015, up 69% from 2008 (NIDA, 2017).

The jump in overdoses coincides with the rise in foster care. For example, of the 16 westernmost counties in North Carolina, 14 have seen an increase in the number of children in foster care. In Buncombe, the largest of these counties, there number has almost doubled since 2010.

Many children entering foster care come from homes where parental addiction began with painkillers and moved on to other substances. Lisa Sprouse, director of social services in McDowell County, says lately 90% of children placed by her agency have tested positive for two or more drugs (Bordas, 2018).

While agencies try to assist families and cope with the expanding number of children in care, leaders at the national and state levels are also taking action. In October 2017, the White House declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. In November, the president’s commission on opioids released a lengthy set of recommendations, and in March 2018 the White House convened a summit on the opioid epidemic.

The new Family First Prevention Services Act (H.R. 253) is also promising: although the effects will not be immediate, this law gives states more flexibility to spend federal money on critical services—including substance abuse treatment—that can prevent the need for foster care.

North Carolina has developed an “Opioid Action Plan,” with seven goals, including reducing the oversupply of prescription opioids, increasing access for North Carolinians to treatment and recovery supports, and purchasing and distributing nearly 40,000 life-saving naloxone kits.

It is hoped that these and future actions will have the desired effects. In the meantime, the need to find and sustain high quality resource families is more urgent than ever.

For more on NC’s opioid-related efforts, visit https://www.ncdhhs.gov/opioids