At the same time that ASPE released the earlier referenced study they also took a closer look at the child welfare caseload and the impact of substance use in a second report, The Relationship Between Substance Use Indicators and Child Welfare Caseloads. This report takes a much deeper look at the data at the county level and supplemented that research with 180 interviews in 11 communities across the country.

This deeper dive found that national trends can obscure substantial variation when specific counties and areas were examined. The research finds that the increased overdose deaths and increased drug-related hospitalizations have a stronger relationship in certain areas of the country than in other areas. The study finds that throughout the south, southwest and mid-Atlantic states there were a number of counties with high overdose deaths had relatively low foster care rates in comparison to some areas in Appalachia, New England and parts of the Midwest and parts of the West Coast.

The research also found that hospitalizations related to other substances had a bigger impact on foster care entry rates. In fact hospitalizations due to opioids resulted in a 2.2 percent increase in foster care entry rates compared to a 2.8 percent increase in foster care rates when the hospitalization was due to alcohol abuse. But many abuse cases may involve multiple drug problems and cases are overall more complex. Creating much bigger challenges for caseworkers. As the report noted,

“In many communities, caseworkers were finding it increasingly difficult to get parents with substance use disorders to comply with court orders or safety plans for their children.”

For a fuller and on-going discussion of the research and the issues see details about this Spring’s CWLA National Conference.