Opioid epidemic is causing foster care crisis

Being a foster parent to any child takes dedication, patience, and time, but children coming out of homes where there is substance abuse often have a whole other set of challenges, including behavioral issues. There aren't enough foster parents in general  and certainly not enough for kids who need specialized care.

Cheryl Butler has raised four daughters who now have sons and daughters of their own.  So she decided to raise a few more, and a few more has become half a dozen.

“They’ve just become part of the family, they are the family, everybody is treated the same,” Butler said.

Butler has opened her home to high risk teen girls as a foster parent for four years.

“You have to deal with that anger when they come, but they’re still just kids,” she said.

Butler said they're kids who have often left behind lives they’d rather not return to.

“I don’t know of a case that does not involve drugs, I can’t think of one. They’re all some drugs in the cases and that just leads to neglect, very severe neglect,” Butler said.

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Butler’s experience is not the exception, it’s the standard.

“We are experiencing a crisis in the foster care system right now.  We have too few homes for the number of children who need care.  Part of that is attributed to the opioid epidemic,” explained Terry Pottmeyer, the CEO of Friends of Youth.

The non-profit provides transitional housing, youth shelters, drop-in centers and foster homes.

“Our capacity is 30 to 35 children in any given year however we are seeing nationally that there’s an increase in the number of children in need of care,” Pottmeyer said.

Since 2012 Friends of Youth has seen a 20 percent increase in the number of kids coming into their care.

According to the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services, since 2012 there’s been a 26 percent jump in the number of kids who are removed from home due to parental drug abuse.

The number of foster homes is up slightly year over year from 4,656 in 2015 to 5,032 in 2018 but that increase is nominal compared to the need.

“Increasingly when there isn’t a foster care placement that is right for them the state is struggling to find what things to do. I know that children have unfortunately been staying in hotel rooms with social workers from the state. Increasingly we have more children being placed outside the state of Washington,” said Pottmeyer.

Butler said that’s a shame, through fostering her heart and her family have grown exponentially.

“Three of my kids I keep in regular contact with and there’s one who would like me to adopt her as an adult and as a teenager she was pretty angry and didn’t want to be adopted by anyone ever,” she said. "Anybody can really do it—you don’t need super powers or anything—I’m just a mom.”

To get more information about foster care education events, click here

To find out how you can become a foster parent, click here