Parents Abusing Drugs Led to More Than Half of Forsyth’s Foster Care Cases, Report Says

Winston-Salem Journal

By Richard Craver

More than half of all foster-care placements in Forsyth County result from parental abuse of opioids or other substances, NC Child said in a report timed for release today.

A foster-care placement was defined as a child up to age 17 spending at least one day out of their parents’ home care, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Neither NC Child nor DHHS provided the actual foster-care numbers for Forsyth for fiscal 2016-17, which ended June 30, 2017.

Statewide, there were more than 16,500 children who lived in county Department of Social Services’ custody during 2017, of which 39 percent were placed in foster care because of opioid abuse by parents or family members.

A July 2017 report by the UNC Chapel Hill Jordan Institute for Families had Forsyth with 168 children — 92 boys and 76 girls — receiving foster care assistance, whether in a group home or with foster parents.

The latest Forsyth count represents a 56.5 percent reduction from a high of 387 in January and February 2000.

However, the May total is up from 153 a year ago, as well as 57 percent above the low for the 17-year period of 107 in October 2012.

Dave Plyler, chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, said most public-health agencies, ranging from DSS, emergency personnel and schools, “have their hands full as the opioid crisis worsens. Human suffering demands actionable policy.”

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said the report represents “another indicator of severity of the (opioid) problem.”

Other urban counties

Of the state’s eight urban counties, only Buncombe at 53.2 percent had a larger percentage of children in foster care related to opioid and other substance abuse than Forsyth.

Guilford County was at 43.2 percent, while New Hanover was at 41.3 percent, Cumberland 32.9 percent, Durham at 19.8 percent, Mecklenburg at 18.5 percent and Wake at 8.4 percent.

“Substance-use disorder is a tragic disease that can tear apart families and leave children without stable, nurturing homes,” said Whitney Tucker, research director at NC Child.

“The opioid epidemic is driving this crisis to a new level in our state.”

NC Child researchers determined that the median time a child spends in foster care has increased from 362 days in fiscal 1999-2000 to 478 days in fiscal 2015-16. For children under age 6, the median length is 512 days.

“Once a report of maltreatment is substantiated, children of parents with substance-use disorders are more likely to be placed in out-of-home care, and more likely to stay in care longer than other children,” according to the report. “That further compounds the adversity they have already experienced.”

DHHS official Cobey Culton said the total number of children in foster care is influenced by a variety of factors, including larger societal issues.

“On a case-by-case basis, the factors most closely associated with involvement in the foster-care system are poverty, family violence, parental history of abuse or neglect, and substance use, including opioids,” Culton said.

“DHHS will continue to support services that strengthen families, prevent abuse and neglect, and reduce the need for foster care placements. DHHS will also continue to work with county DSS and private child placing agencies to ensure the availability of out-of-home services for children in need.”

A role for Medicaid?

NC Child suggested that the foster-care increase could be reduced in part by the Republican-controlled legislature agreeing to expand Medicaid coverage to more than 500,000 North Carolinians. That would raise the total to 2.6 million, or about 26 percent of the state’s population.

State Republican legislative leaders, including Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, continue to view Medicaid expansion as a nonstarter because of concerns about potential state responsibility for future federal administrative costs.

A bipartisan House Bill 662, titled Carolina Care, is sitting in committee 14 months after it was submitted by Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth.

NC Child cites the bill as the main option for moving Medicaid expansion forward even though the group considers the bill’s work requirement for beneficiaries “as a shortcoming.”

“Closing the health insurance coverage gap would unlock the full spectrum of addiction care — prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery — which could make a substantial difference as we work to help North Carolinians find freedom and wellness,” said Donald McDonald, executive director of Addiction Professionals of N.C