There’s a distinct correlation between parental addiction and child abuse and neglect. A parent’s addiction to drugs or alcohol is a factor one third of the time children are placed in foster care, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau. Increasingly, the addiction is to opioids.

The problem is particularly acute — and growing — in Southern Oregon. The rates of children entering foster care here have skyrocketed since 2006, while the rates in most of the state have gone down. Already this year, 204 Douglas County children have entered foster care, a 398 percent increase from five years ago. Opioid addiction is a major factor in this jump. Southern Oregon’s seen more opioid-related arrests this year, and a steeper rise in arrests since 2009 than anywhere else in the state.

It’s all too easy to point a finger of blame at the addicts themselves, and turn away from the problem. After all, they started taking drugs in the first place. It’s not our fault. Righteous indignation feels good, doesn’t it?

But it won’t save the children.

Can you look a neglected child, or a foster child, in the eye and tell him that you’ve washed your hands of his problems because his parents are to blame. Really?

What we need here is a big helping of knowledge about evidence-based solutions to the problem, peppered with a dash of compassion.

How can you have compassion for a parent too high on opioids to care for his or her child?

It’s tough, but it may help to start with the knowledge that about 40 percent of people addicted to drugs suffer from mental illnesses. It’s particularly common in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (and the bulk of these are veterans still unable to process their wartime experiences, along with victims of child abuse and sexual assault.)

Poverty is a common complicating factor, making it difficult or impossible to access treatment. Lack of access to birth control for women in poverty makes it more likely a young mother with addiction problems will have a child she didn’t want and isn’t prepared to care for. It also increases the number of babies whose first day in this world is marred by the pain of drug withdrawals.

Are any of these problems a sufficient excuse for neglecting or harming a child? No. But the bottom line is that unless we understand and treat the problem, the kids will just keep on suffering.

And the cost to them, and society as a whole, is enormous. When kids remain stuck in foster care until they age out of the system at 18, one in five become homeless. One in four will spend time behind bars within two years of aging out of the system, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trust and Children and Family Futures.

The state of Oregon prefers to keep kids with their biological parents, and much of the system is bent toward returning foster kids to their birth parents as quickly as possible. Even if, as many suggest, the bias should swing the other way, it would be of little use. There were 428,000 kids in foster care in the country in 2015. Stop the return trips home, and there will be not nearly enough foster parents to cope with the demand. Group homes can be miserable places. And the idea that there are 428,000 would-be adoptive parents for children who aren’t babies and come with baggage is a fantasy. In reality, according to the Children’s Bureau, 112,000 foster kids hoped for adoption in 2015 and 53,000 were adopted.

So how do we do it? How do we keep kids safe and their parents healthy enough to take them back? Or better yet, reach parents and help them overcome drug addiction in time that they never come to neglect or abuse their kids? That’s where evidence-based practice comes in. We’re not the first community to face this problem, so we have the advantage of learning from those who have improved their own statistics.

The evidence suggests that important tools are early identification of at-risk families, increased access to treatment, and support services for the special needs of women addicted to drugs. Illinois has had success with the use of “recovery coaches,” who work with families to remove barriers to treatment and encourage and support them in recovering. Parents with coaches were more likely to get treatment, to do it more quickly, and to get their kids back and keep them safe than parents without coaches.

We already have experience with the effectiveness of drug court here in Douglas County. In King County, Washington, a variation on this that’s been shown effective is “family treatment court,” which adds the element of judicial monitoring.

If you have the heart and the means to become an adoptive or foster parent, we salute you. The rest of us need to do all we can to support programs that make Southern Oregon a better place for kids.

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(5) comments


*****Born to and living with addict parents makes children prone to doing what their parents do. Foster care will only increase those thoughts, choices and future actions. You can have plans, committees, task forces, talks but it is all a waste of time. These issues have been around for at least 45+ years I can think of and has not tiny bit. The parents are at fault...100%. I had a law professor that said, it is all up to the kids how they perform in life, regardless of how their parents were. Many spent their lives in closets cutting themselves with knives, yet their siblings became successful in life. You can't predict it, but a mind is many times self salvageable. It will never stop, the people that choose to use drugs/alcohol, as it is a conscious decision. So many families have 2, 3, 4 generations of children when they should not have been allowed to have any, ever. If society thinks it needs to help, then find ways to keep certain people from having children. I mean this vehemently. I saw an ex-in-law arrested for CAID (Criminal Activity in Drugs), had weapons, and her house was a dirty, stinking mess. Yet CSD decided it was not all that bad and let her keep her kids. Well you guessed it. The kids slowly grew up to be drug dealers, out of wedlock mom's and felons. Why do people jump up and flap their arms demanding change? It will not work, unless society demands actions that will never be implemented, because society itself will never condone those actions. Just like punching a brick wall, you want to put a hole in it, but it will happen.


Too many will never be able to provide a decent life for their offspring, and cannot even provide for themselves. It seems their brains are permanently changed by drugs. One remedy that comes to mind would be to offer a one time payment to those who would request to get their tubes tied or get a vasectomy. If a little money brings less kids in the future into a drug filled existence it would be worth it. Anyone on probation or testing positive for meth, heroin, etc should have their children taken into protective custody, for the kids sake. For some parents it would mean the loss of their state cash assistance for the chiild, and may be the wake up call they need to clean up their act. And of course we should offer to help as a society. But the kids come first. How about doing a story based on the experiences of medical providers, first responders, and law enforcement. How many babies and children have to suffer until we as a society step up and say enough, here are some new rules. The status quo obviously isn't working.


Excellent suggestion!


So it is my responsibility to take care of someone's children because they choose to stick a needle in their arm? They are the ones that brought children into a horrible situation. Birth control is available usually free of charge at most health clinics. Condoms are given away. But it is my responsibility to clean up someone else's mess? They made the choice to do drugs and bring children into a life of misery. When is the drug addict going to take responsibility for their actions?


***Mogie. Those addicts/alcoholics do not care except to get high or drunk. You are right, as they did the drugs by their own choice. So many of them get so many public benefits, it is hard to calculate them all. Rent subsidy, OHP, food stamps, car repairs, utility payments, free counseling, college assistance. I know, because I had ex-in laws that made a game of how much they could score in free bennies. Another thing to remember, if it were not for people on the public dole, there would be less demand for government employees that work those areas. See the circle?

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