On Tuesday, April 5 the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth held a briefing on Capitol Hill. The briefing is part of a series focused on why children are coming into foster care, this briefing highlighted, “The Impact of Substance Use and Mental Disorders on Child Welfare Involvement.”

The panel presentations included comments by Dr Nancy K Young, Executive Director, Children and Family Services, Director Jocelyn Gainer, Baltimore Family Drug Court’s Family Recovery Program, Case Manager Lukenia Lisa Carroll, recovering parent and also with the Baltimore Family Drug Court’s program, Director Paul Brylske, Therapeutic Foster Care, Kennedy Krieger Institute, and Ricky Bellesteros, former foster youth from Utah.

Lisa Carol discussed her experiences with drug addiction and recovery as she recounted the eight years toward that recovery. She recounted losing her children with one child born addicted and how she overcame all the challenges and was eventually reunified with her three children. Paul Brylske discussed the significant role of therapeutic foster care in the recovery process including its role with social work, intervention with the family and the significant role of the special training for foster parents. He also highlighted therapeutic foster care as a less expensive approach with increased permanency results.

Nancy Young provided an overview of the national situation and her experiences in particular states. 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. In all likelihood those figures represent an undercount because some children are removed for multiple reasons or the data is not as comprehensive at the caseload level.

Jocelyn Gainer discussed the role of the Baltimore-based program that works through that cities dependency court. The program is voluntary for parents living in a city that is sometimes described as the heroin capitol of the nation. The program works with parents who have children up to age 10 and uses a number of services to help recovering parents. Services include drug treatment, intensive case management, on site mental health service, transportation, evidencedbased parent training programs as well as post-services including peer recovery, alumni groups and parent mentors. Gainer also highlighted the programs high level of success in reunification and permanence.

Finally, Ricky Ballesteros recounted his experiences in foster care when he and his seven brothers were split when he was 16 years old. He and his next oldest brother chose foster care over adoption while the rest of his siblings were placed in adoptive homes. He had been the prime caretaker of his siblings for several years while his parents struggled with drug abuse. Eventually they were arrested for drug trafficking.

On Wednesday, April 20 CWLA will hold a morning session on the intersection of substance abuse and child welfare. That event will include an examination of the national picture, state reactions and Washington DC policy perspectives. Speakers include Dr Nancy Young, Director, Children and Family Futures, Executive Director Robert Morrison, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, and Executive Director, Jocelyn Gainers, Family Recovery Program, Inc, Baltimore, and a panel of key Capitol Hill staff.