Foster care systems around the U.S., especially in rural areas that have been hit hard by addiction, are becoming overwhelmed as the opioid crisis has forced more and more children into state custody, the Washington Post reports. Massachusetts experienced a 19 percent increase in children in foster care between 2011 and 2015. Ohio’s foster population has gone up nearly 10 percent, with more than 60 percent of children in the system because of parental drug abuse. The number of North Dakota children needing foster care has gone up more than 27 percent. Experts say that as the drug epidemic has intensified during the past two years, another rush of children has entered the system. State budgets are stretched, social workers are overloaded, and not enough families are willing to provide children with temporary homes.
Foster care is in crisis. “It’s pretty much every state — except maybe four or five — that have seen an increase in the number of children in foster care,” said John Sciamanna of the Child Welfare League of America. “What you are seeing now is just a straining of the system.” The widespread and growing abuse of opioids and methamphetamines has played a significant role in reversing what had been a positive trend in the number of children needing foster homes. At its modern low point in 2012, 397,000 U.S. children were in foster care. By 2015, that number had risen 8 percent, to 428,000, and the number is up dramatically in the past two years, the height of the opioid epidemic.