How America’s Opioid Crisis Continues to Send Babies and Children into Foster Care

Dr. John DeGarmo
Dec 14, 2017 · 5 min read

The headlines continue to focus on the opioid epidemic that has gripped the United States. Stories focus upon how more adults are becoming addicted to drugs, as well as the thousands who have died to the drugs. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Disturbingly, 91 people in America die from an opioid overdose each day. Whether illegal, such as heroin, or prescribed by doctors but finding their way on to the black market, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, the rise in opioid use in America is one that is strangling the nation. Indeed, President Trump stated in August of 2017 that, “”The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency.”

Yet, what is often overlooked is the number of children that are affected by this opioid crisis. Children like the 10 month old girl in Indiana who was strapped into her car seat while her mother was passed out from heroin, slumped over her steering wheel at a stop light; a mother who was also five months pregnant with another child.

Children like the 8 month old Florida girl, who was also found in a car seat, this time in a soiled diaper, crying from lack of food and sweating in a hot car, while her parents were passed out from opioids. One infant was given opioids by his Utah parents when she was just one day old, a baby who was already born addicted to opioids due to her mother’s addiction during pregnancy. Another child, an 8 month old Rhode Island girl, died from having the opioid Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug, in her system, while her parents were arrested for cruelty and neglect.

Utah parents arrested for giving newborn meth, heroin.

As a result of similar stories across the nation, thousands upon thousands of children are flooding into the foster care system. a system that is struggling to properly assist these children due to lack of resources, foster parents, and funding. “This isn’t a trickle. This isn’t a wave. It’s a tsunami,” Indiana juvenile court judge Marilyn Moores stated.

It is estimated that of the roughly 465,000 children in the nation’s foster care system, 92,000 children were placed into foster care in 2016 due to opioid related issues. Indeed, there has been a 32 percent increase in drug-related cases from 2012 to 2016 regarding children being placed into foster care. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that from October 2012 to September 2015, as addictions to opioids grew, the number of children entering the into foster care system in the nation grew by eight percent.

“Like most adult-oriented problems, the fallout lands on the kids,” said Chris Chmielewski, editor and owner of Foster Focus Magazine, “We saw this with crack and cocaine in the eighties. Ecstasy, Molly, and heroin in the 90s and now this two decades old pill and opiate craze. Ultimately, there is no way this doesn’t leave broken families and lost kids in its’ wake.

With this crisis continuing to sweep across the nation, the foster care system is struggling. Indeed, as more parents are incarcerated due to drug and opioid usage, or even tragically lose their lives, thousands of more children are being placed into a foster care system throughout the nation, a system that is struggling to properly assist these children due to lack of resources, foster parents, and funding. As more children are being placed into care, the foster care system also faces the challenge of the shortage of foster parents and foster homes across the nation, while, foster care agencies face the challenge of recruitment and retention of foster parents.

Baby born addicted to Opioids

Perhaps more disturbing is the number of babies born dependent on heroin and other opiates continues to climb, as well due to this opioid epidemic. The past decade has seen the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome quadruple over the course of 15 years in the United States. Up to 94 percent of babies born to mothers who used opioids while pregnant will suffer symptoms of drug withdrawal. Maine, Vermont and West Virginia lead the nation. Out of every 1,000 babies born in these states, at least 30 are born with NAS. Furthermore, yet another study found that a baby is born suffering from opiate withdrawals every 25 minutes.

As the opioid crisis in America continues to climb, continues to claim more victims, and continues to lead to more deaths, it is the children in the nation that are falling through the cracks. It is the children in the nation that are the hidden victims. It is the children in the nation that are unable to protect themselves from this drug use.

Dr. John DeGarmo is a leading parenting and foster care expert, and a TEDx speaker. Dr. John has been a foster parent for over 16 years, and he and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is the director of The Foster Care Institute, is a consultant to legal firms and foster care agencies, as well as an international transformational speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system. Dr. DeGarmo and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero. He is the author of several foster care books, including the The Foster Parenting Manual.

Dr. John DeGarmo

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Leading foster care expert and international empowerment speaker

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