More than 550 attendees at the CWLA Conference were welcomed by opening remarks of Commissioner Rafael Lopez, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), HHS.  Lopez offered praise to the many participants made up of state and local agencies and service providers.  In his first day comments he said that what was most important and effective is to “help families when they need it, not tomorrow and not when it is available but now.”

Commissioner Lopez indicated that new data that would soon be released as part of the annual AFCARS report, will show another increase in the number of children entering foster care.  In 2015 the number of entries into foster care rose to 264,800 compared to 264,746 in 2014. In 2012 the entries into foster care had hit a decades long low to 251,850. Commissioner Lopez also discussed the disproportionate impact on younger children under five. That population represents an increasing number of children in foster care, children under five represented more than 35 percent of the foster care population at more than 145,000 children out of the 415,000 children in foster care in 2014.

The opening plenary included remarks by Ta’Kijah Randolph, staffer to Congressperson Karen Bass (D-CA). Ms. Randolph was in foster care but is now a Legislative Correspondent to the Representative. She told the gathering about her experiences in foster care and the role that substance use played with her mother and the impact it had on her life.  Her story involved the important role that her grandmother played in her upbringing but even with that support she could not avoid being split from her siblings. Despite the challenges she did attend college and had an opportunity through the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) to come to Capitol Hill as an intern which later resulted in her connection to Representative Bass and her current job in that congressional office.

Nancy Young, Children and Family Futures, national conference partner in hosting the event, described the national landscape when it comes to the spread of heroin and prescription drug use.   Dr Young also highlighted the work of the National Resource Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare. The resource center is jointly funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Children’s Bureau’s Office on Child Abuse and Neglect (OCAN) through Children and Family Futures. It provides a range of services including training courses available to child welfare workers, substance abuse case workers and family court attorneys. Among the more recently posted resources:

Dr. Young also outlined the specific numbers that lay out the increase in substance use related to opioids.  She also called for better and more timely data highlighting official data reports that underestimate the actual impact of substance use on the child welfare and child maltreatment numbers when compared to what state and local programs are actually experiencing.

Key to a comprehensive strategy are seven ingredients or factors:

  • System of identifying families
  • Earlier access to assessment and treatment services
  • Increased management of recovery services and compliance
  • Improved family-centered services and parent-child relationships
  • Increased judicial or administrative oversight
  • Systemic response for participants—contingency management
  • Collaborative non-adversarial approach across service systems and courts.