Toddler sitting on a bench

A heartbreaking trend of more infants and toddlers being thrust into foster care has child welfare professionals on high alert. Many experts are drawing links to the opioid and methamphetamine addiction crisis that has devastated families across the country. With the nation’s welfare system already strained, rampant drug addiction continues to force more young children into foster care and pushing government resources to the brink.

 Do More Infants and Toddlers Enter Foster Care than Older Children?

According to reports, the rates of babies and younger children incrementally outpaced those of older youths from 2009 to 2017. Data amassed by the Child Trends research group points to children under 3 years old entering foster care at more than double the rate of those from 4-17 years old in 2017. The organization’s research indicates that 6.6 of 1,000 children 3 or younger end up in foster care compared to 2.8 in the older demographic.

The Child Trends organization also drew a link between states that are struggling the most with drug addiction and children entering foster care. For example, the study cites West Virginia as the state with the highest foster care ratio for very young children at 17.8 to 1,000. West Virginia also, tragically, had the highest number of drug overdose deaths in the country.

In 2017, approximately 5.8 in every 1,000 children were in foster care with Texas standing at 4.3. Although the Lone Star state ranks below the national average, one child being thrust into foster care due to parental drug abuse is one too many.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Texas suffered 1,458 opioid-related drug overdoses in 2017 at a rate of 5.1 deaths per 100,000 people. When all drug overdoses are factored in, Texas’ rate rises to 10.5. Although that rate remains far lower the national average, opioid-related fatalities have increased in Texas each year since 2013.

Do Newborns Suffer from Withdrawal?

In terms of the direct drug abuse impact on infants, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) or Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS) effects reportedly increased fivefold from 2004 to 2014. A baby may be born with some type of withdrawal symptoms every 15 minutes in the United States. More than 1,300 cases were reported in Texas alone during 2015.

Welfare industry professionals also suggest that the varying state policies have a direct and discernible impact on foster care placement. States with well-funded systems that are more adept at identifying parental addiction are prone to remove young children from a risky environment. Some states simply do not have the investigative resources in place to advocate for children adequately.

There’s little doubt that the country is experiencing a significant drug addiction crisis. The result is more unnecessarily displaced babies and toddlers. Parents struggling with drug dependence are advised to seek help for the well-being of their children.