Lawmakers Must Take the Lead in Opioid Crisis - for the Children
February 12, 2017 – As the opioid epidemic continues to take its toll across the nation, a new study sheds light on a heartbreaking reality close to home — the crisis is forcing thousands of children into foster care.
Research from the University of South Florida shows that the number of Florida children removed from their homes grew almost 130 percent between 2012 and 2015, while the number of prescriptions for opioids increased 9 percent. The correlation between those two grim statistics seems apparent to researchers.
At Community Based Care of Central Florida, the nonprofit agency that oversees foster care and child-welfare services for our area, we see the devastating impact firsthand. In 2017 alone, over 570 children in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties were taken from their parents due to drug abuse.
Far too often, these children lose their parents forever. Daniel and Heather Kelsey were found dead of a fentanyl overdose in their car alongside Interstate 4 in DeLand, becoming two of 5,700 opioid-related deaths in Florida in 2016. Their three young sons, who were buckled in the car, were placed with family members.
Glen Casel, chief executive officer, Community Based Care of Central Florida. (Frank Weber RF Photography.com / Courtesy photo)
Case managers see situations like that every day, and they often struggle to find the resources to help save these families and protect their children. More than anything, the need for additional foster homes is immediate and critical.
The governor’s proposals — limiting opioid prescriptions to three days’ worth and requiring all who prescribe them to participate in a statewide controlled-substance database — are a step in the right direction. His call for $50 million to be budgeted in 2018 for substance-abuse treatment, counseling and recovery support is even more important.
Those struggling with addiction often end up on a waiting list for drug treatment, which means their children spend even longer in foster care. And considering that many parents relapse, it can take years to reunite a family. Tragically, the clock runs out on many before that can happen.
As the epidemic worsens, the waiting lists will lengthen, and the number of children in foster care will continue to skyrocket, putting a strain on the entire social-services system. It costs about $25,000 each year to place a single child in foster care, and that’s not counting food and health care, according to USF study author Troy Quast.
While we at Community Based Care of Central Florida confront this problem on the family level, the USF study confirms the reality that we need more options at the systemic level — and we must have the support of our lawmakers to do so. Legislators must take the lead in this fight by investing money to help parents overcome addiction, while at the same time bolstering support for an overloaded child-welfare system.
Without an adequate pathway to reuniting children in stable, healthy families, a generation of kids will grow up in foster care — innocent victims of a tragic epidemic.