Addiction Contributes To 40% Of Foster Care Cases

By Kelly Burch 09/26/19

Nationally, about 36% of foster care cases stem from parents using drugs.

mother with addiction hugging her child
ID 136499417 © Fizkes |

In North Carolina, as in many parts of the country, the opioid epidemic is tearing families apart, with substance use disorder to blame for about 40% of cases where a child enters foster care in the state. 

A 15% Rise Over A 10-Year Period

A decade ago, just 25% of foster care cases were related to substance use disorder, according to North Carolina Health News. In just five years, the number of kids in foster care in the state has increased by 15%, highlighting just how devastating addiction can be for the whole family. 

Ken Maxwell owns a privately run nonprofit foster care placement and adoption agency in the state. He says that typically during times when the economy is strong, foster placements go down because parents are better able to provide for their kids.

However, right now North Carolina has a strong economy and low unemployment rates, but drug abuse continues to drive up the number of kids in care. 

“We’re not seeing the numbers decline, we’re seeing the numbers increase. The numbers are staying high because of substance abuse or opioid abuse,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said that families who have never had interactions with the foster care system before are losing their children, showing how quickly opioids cause parents to lose the ability to care for their kids. 

He said, “This sneaks up on families and they don’t realize it until they’re at risk of losing their kids.” 

A study published in July found that nationally, about 36% of foster care cases stemmed from parents using drugs in 2017. Nationally, the number of kids in foster care increased 12% between 2012 and 2017. 

The Numbers Are Higher In North Carolina

Mary Beth Rubright is the assistant director of social work for the Department of Social Services in New Hanover County, North Carolina, where half of foster care cases are related to substance abuse, with 23% caused by opioids. She said that social workers try to help parents get sober so that they can provide a safe living environment for their kids and be reunified. 

She said, “If they’re in recovery and in a program, it makes our job a whole lot easier.”

The county has launched a program to help get babies home sooner if they are born with drugs in their system. The program allows parents to work closely with a social worker with the goal of regaining custody of their infants within 60-90 days. The program is expensive to run, but the long-term benefits for families are worth it, Rubright said. 

“It’s critical that you give [mothers] opportunities to bond with her children. The truth is that in the end, it’s a lot less expensive to pour those resources in on the front end.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.