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Drug Abuse Playing Larger Role in Demand for Foster Care

Extended family plays a big role in raising children both in and out of the foster care system. (Div_lv/Pixabay)
Extended family plays a big role in raising children both in and out of the foster care system. (Div_lv/Pixabay)
May 31, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. – The U.S. Senate is recognizing Thursday as National Foster Parent Appreciation Day.

About 1,400 children in North Dakota were in foster care in 2016 out of about 400,000 nationwide.

The numbers in North Dakota have gone up slightly over the past decade, due mainly to the state's growing population, but experts say the opioid crisis also is influencing the care system.

Karen Olson, program director for North Dakota Kids Count, says drug abuse is the number one reason children are placed in foster care.

"Parental drug abuse is about 37 percent of all cases in 2017, so just over a third, and that's up from 11 percent back in 2011,” she points out. “So the parental drug abuse has more than tripled in the past six years."

Olson says there is a growing shortage of foster parents, which could affect the system.

In February, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act. The law provides more funding for programs such as parenting classes, substance abuse treatment and mental health services – all designed to prevent children from being placed in foster care.

Jaia Lent, deputy executive director of the children and families advocacy organization Generations United, says foster care is only a small part of the picture.

She says for every one child in foster care with relatives, there are 20 being raised outside of foster care with grandparents or other relatives.

Lent hopes that as policymakers increase support for foster families, they also will continue to support relatives caring for children outside the system.

"The positive news about relying on relatives is that we know that children actually do better when they are placed with supported relatives versus non-relatives," she states.

Lent says children who can't remain under their parents' care for whatever reason often experience serious trauma, but she says research shows children who are able to stay with other family members typically show better mental and behavioral health.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND