It is possible for parents to love their children dearly but be unable to kick an addiction that endangers their ability to parent.
Nationally, neglect is the most common reason for the removal of children from their parents (62 percent). These cases often involve other underlying factors such as drug or alcohol abuse or parental mental health problems, which may not be reported or even known by child welfare agencies at the time of removal.
The threshold for indicating parent drug abuse as a reason for removal varies among, and sometimes within, states. For example, some states require a formal diagnosis of drug abuse for parental drug abuse to be listed as a reason for removal, while others maintain lower thresholds such as a positive urine screen or investigator suspicion. States also do not report data on informal arrangements in which a child stays with relatives or family friends without formally entering foster care.
In 2017, the rate of children entering foster care due to parental drug abuse rose for the sixth consecutive year to 131 per 100,000 children nationally—a 5 percent increase from the previous fiscal year and a 53 percent increase since FY 2007. Of the 268,212 children under age 18 removed from their families in FY 2017, 96,400 (36 percent) had parental drug abuse listed as a reason for their removal. 35 US states have experienced an increase in both the number and rate of children entering foster care due to parental drug abuse. Federal law does not require states to specify the type of drug abuse involved in a child’s removal from the home and so the role of opioid addiction is not quantified.
Challenges for keeping families together include a lack of resources to provide appropriate treatment for parents battling addiction and a shortage of foster homes to care for children while their parents are in treatment.
Addiction is an isolating disease. Due to the pandemic, AA and other 12-step groups have moved online, and some methadone clinics have shifted to phone meetings and appointments. The coronavirus may make it harder for parents who have struggled with addiction to stay in recovery. The pandemic has changed some long standing rules for treatment – it is recommended that clinics stop collecting urine samples to test for drug use. Many patients can now get a 14- to 28-day supply of their addiction treatment medication, so they can make fewer trips to methadone or buprenorphine clinics.
It’s too early to tell what long term effects this unprecedented time we are living through will have on families. Compassion, understanding and whatever support can be given under pandemic restrictions may be critical to the long term outcome.