As Drug Crises Surge, Babies Enter Foster Care at Higher Rate

By: - April 9, 2019 12:00 am

An Albuquerque police officer holds his newly adopted daughter, whose birth mother used heroin while she was pregnant. Babies and toddlers are entering the foster care system at a higher rate, possibly because of the opioid crisis. Russell Contreras/The Associated Press

Babies and toddlers are entering the foster care system at a higher rate, a trend that some child welfare experts fear is correlated to the opioid and methamphetamine epidemics wreaking havoc across the country. And that is further straining the nation’s already overburdened child welfare system.

From 2009 to 2017, the rate of very young children entering foster care grew incrementally, exceeding the rates of older children, which remained steady, according to data compiled by Child Trends, a Maryland-based research organization that focuses on child welfare issues. In fiscal year 2017, children age 3 and under entered foster care at a rate of 6.6 in 1,000, more than twice the 2.8 rate of children ages 4 to 17.

“Babies are driving that increase,” said Sarah Catherine Williams, one of the authors of the Child Trends study.

The trend has a big impact on states, whose budgets often already are overstretched responding to the drug crisis and other needs.

West Virginia has the highest rates of very young children entering foster care, at 20.8 in 1,000 — and it also has the highest overdose death rates in the country.

West Virginia is followed in the foster care rates by Montana (19.6), Indiana (15.7), Alaska (12.6) and Oklahoma (12.6).

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.