Child welfare professionals were delighted in 2013 when the Congressional Budget Office reported the number of children in foster care had been on a 10-year decline. The CBO published a report about foster care, adoption and kinship care which looked at the past and predicted the future. Based on the past and hopeful about the next decade, the CBO report contained a graph projecting what the data suggested would happen in the United States between 2013 and 2023. You can see the predictions in the chart below.

Along the way, those positive trend lines took a bad turn. The number of children in foster care is actually increasing each year.

Between 2011 and 2017, the number of children in foster care increased by 8% in the United States. Today there are roughly 75,000 more children living in foster care in the U.S. than experts predicted there would be back in 2013.

What we know now is that the number of children who live in foster care will continue to increase until the prescription opioid crisis and heroin use decline.

What has increased the number of children living in foster care?

Increased parental drug use led to increased foster care. The opioid crisis has had a devastating impact on our nation’s infants and children. All the trends prior to the opioid crisis predicted a 35% reduction in the number of children in foster care between 2011 and 2017. That did not happen.

Unfortunately, the reality of parental addiction created a different future for our nation’s children. The reason is simple: a parent who is impaired by opioids cannot care for his or her child. A baby born to an addicted young mother will be born with her own addiction-related health concerns.

The overlooked victims of the opioid epidemic are infants and children and the numbers are swelling. Their parents’ addictions lead to neglectful parenting.

How did this happen?

The seeds of the opioid crisis were planted in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. During those years, increased numbers of prescriptions for natural and semi-synthentic opioids were written for pain relief. These pharmaceutical painkillers were provided effusively enough that surplus prescription drugs were soon available from both pharmacies and on the street.

Of course, every pendulum swings. The over abundance of prescription opioids was countered by a crack down on over prescribing.

As regulations tightened, the street supply of pain killers like Vicodin and OxyContin decreased and individuals who had been using the pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes turned to illegal drugs. Heroin, a powerful opioid, became the street replacement for off-prescription painkillers.

This all happened in a single decade. In 2000, 0.33% of the adult population in the U.S., about 300,000 individuals, reported having used heroin at least once. Ten years later in 2010, that number of adults reporting having used heroin increased to 1.6% or about 3.8 million Americans.

While heroin use was increasing dramatically, the use of prescription painkillers continued. Nearly 10 million Americans, more than 4% of the adults in the U.S., reported using a prescription opioid for non-medical reasons in 2012-2013.

Heroin use increased.

Heroin is the most deadly drug. The death rate of heroin users increased hand-in-hand with the increased use of heroin. In 2016, heroin-related deaths were five times more than in 2000.

According to a Robert Wood Johnson study released earlier this year, “heroin use appears to have become more socially acceptable among suburban and rural white individuals, perhaps because its effects seem so similar to those of widely available [prescription opioids].” The group of individuals whose heroin use increased most are young, white adults of parenting age.

With increasing numbers of young parents whose addictions prevent them from parenting and with more newborns experiencing prenatal substance abuse, it follows that the number of children living in foster care would increase.

What about Louisiana?

No state has been immune from impact of the opioid crisis. Louisiana is no different. The impact on Louisiana’s children is similar. Like other states, Louisiana has more children in foster care today than in 2011. Unlike most other states, Louisiana has experienced a larger percentage increase in the number of children living in foster care.

Between 2011 and 2017, the number of children in foster care increased by 8% in the United States. Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services reported 3,968 Louisiana children lived in foster care in December of 2011. Recently, in November, 2017, Louisiana’s DCFS reported 4,699 children in foster care. Louisiana’s increase of 15.6% is almost twice the national increase of 8%.

Louisiana Needs More Foster Homes

Stated simply, Louisiana’s children require more foster homes. The need is not temporary. The increase occurred over a ten year period and nothing gives one reason to believe there will be an immediate decline in the need.

It is not an empty request when you hear someone say, “Louisiana needs more foster homes. Would you help?” The need is real and the need is growing. A significant number of Louisiana’s children need a safe home.

You can help by opening your home, by becoming a foster parent, for a young child.

Learn more at A child needs you.

Rick Wheat, President and CEO
Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services


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