Apr 25, 2024 - News

The opioid epidemic and foster care system are colliding in Virginia

Illustration of a lone teddy bear.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Family members in Virginia are increasingly becoming caretakers of children removed from their parents' care due to drug use, according to an investigation from WHRO.

Why it matters: It's one way to avoid forcing more kids into an already overwhelmed foster care system as the addiction crisis gets worse and fractures more families.

The big picture: Many of these relatives are doing it without the financial support the state gives foster parents even though they're eligible for it.

  • Advocates say social workers are sometimes managing such massive workloads that they fail to tell those relatives about benefits available to them. It's now required by law for them to do so.
  • A 2018 government watchdog report found "inadequate financial resources" have stopped some family members from taking children in.
  • It also noted legislative efforts to help, like the Kinship Guardian Assistance Program, have such restrictive requirements that it could prove ineffective long-term.

Zoom in: Since launching in 2018, the program has supported about 60 children, reports WHRO.

  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation estimates 57,000 children were in kinship care between 2021 and 2023.

By the numbers: Parental drug use is the second leading cause for entering Virginia's foster care system.

  • Between 2010 and 2019, the number of children going into foster care because of parental drug use increased by 60%, per state data.
  • More than a third, or 35%, of children are in foster care because of parental drug use as of April 1, according to Virginia's DSS.
  • About 16% of the nearly 4,400 kids in foster care are currently placed with a relative.

State of play: Virginia's foster care system has ranked among the worst in the U.S. for decades for youth aging out without a permanent home and kinship care.

What's next: Youngkin signed a bill creating a program requiring social workers to prioritize placing children with family and notify them of available financial resources starting next January.

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