On Thursday, December 3, Capitol Hill was the location for a briefing on Substance Use Treatment: A Core Component of Child Welfare Reform, the briefing entitled the Elephant in the Room discussed the roll that substance abuse is and has been playing in child welfare and foster care in particular.  CWLA was one of the several cosponsors of the briefing which is in line with the high priority CWLA is placing on the issue including a special journal: Effectively Addressing the Needs of Child Welfare Involved Families Affected by Substance Abuse and next year’s conference: ADVANCING EXCELLENCE IN PRACTICE AND POLICY: WHAT WORKS FOR FAMILIES AFFECTED BY SUBSTANCE USE (August 1 through 3)

The problem of drug abuse and lack of treatment options have always played a significant role in child abuse and neglect and out- of-home placements over the years but it is now getting renewed attention as the increased use of heroin and opiates are having an impact on the increased numbers of children in foster care.  In recent months the Governor of Montana has pointed to the problem for that states rising foster care numbers and the state of Kansas was also recently in the news highlighting increased drug use as a contributing factor in that state’s rising foster care numbers.

The panel discussion focused on some specific states and actions that can be taken to better address substance abuse and the effectiveness of treatment. Pamela Rodriguez, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, discussed the Illinois efforts and their use of child welfare waiver funds to expand treatment and how they have been able to have a positive impact on foster care placements and improved reunifications from foster care. Orman Hall, Supreme Court of Ohio, documented that state’s recent epidemic of heroin/opiate use and its effect on Ohio.  Nancy Young, from Children and Family Futures and sponsor of the briefing, highlighted research that documents the cost savings that can result from effective treatment programs as an alternative to foster care placements

Out of the nearly 4 million births a year over 210,000 are exposed to illicit drug use.  Data indicates that an increasing percentage of children being placed in foster care and removed from the home as a result of alcohol and other drug use has risen to 31 percent in 2013 from 23 percent in 2004.  Those percentages likely undercounted the actual impact since some children are removed for multiple reasons or the data is not as comprehensive at the caseload level.

Carson Fox, National Association of Drug Court Professionals, highlighted the effectiveness of Family Drug Courts.  Studies over the past decade indicate that Family Drug Courts can save $6,000 to $15,000 per child when there is effective treatment.  The cost saving results from reduced time in a foster care placements or reduced placements. Other information documented the effectiveness of drug treatment either in combination or as a substitute for out-of-home placements.  Despite this, drug treatment dollars are lagging badly in terms of federal support.  Earlier this month Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH) called for $600 million more in emergency funding to address the heroin epidemic with some of that funding for these services.

Christine Calpin, Casey Family Programs, who also worked for the Children’s Bureau, highlighted some of the strategies some states are taking and the difficulties of the challenge that states are facing.  The National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD) has documented that the key state block grant for drug treatment has been frozen for approximately a decade at approximately $1.8 billion with inflation cutting that by nearly 25 percent since 2006.  This despite the fact that 2014 data indicates that 92 percent of drug treatment patients after discharge had stable housing, 94 percent had no arrests, 81 percent were abstinent form alcohol use and 72 percent were abstinent from illicit drug  over the course of the year.

For further information go to the Elephant in the Room.