As the opioid crisis has grown in recent years, so has the number of children no longer able to safely live with their parents. Children’s welfare advocates say it’s important to support the foster parents and extended families increasingly being called on to care for children. The advocacy group Generations United says as more U.S. parents addicted to opioids face incarceration, rehab or overdose, more children are in need of safe homes, creating more demand for foster care.
In a statement about the importance of foster care on the Senate floor this month, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said 4,000 Iowa children were in foster care during 2016. Nationwide that number is 438,000.
Jaia Lent, deputy executive director of Generations United, says those numbers are only a small part of the picture.
In response to the growing need for foster caregivers, Congress in February 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.
Grassley is the co-founder and co-chair of the Senate’s Caucus on Foster Youth. He says an estimated 92,000 children nationwide entered foster care in 2016 because of parental drug use. The U.S. Senate this year also is recognizing Thursday as National Foster Care Parent Day. Lent hopes that as policymakers increase support for foster families, they also will continue to support relatives caring for children outside the system.
As demand for caregivers rises, Lent says grandparents and other relatives are increasingly the ones stepping in to care for children.
Several counties in the area are facing a shortage of foster homes, causing children to be housed in shelters instead of with families.