The Problem


National data do not identify how many children are removed from their homes because of a parent’s substance abuse. However, Pennsylvania state data indicate a surge in children being removed from the care of their parents and being placed in foster care over the past three years, a surge that coincides with increasing opioid overdose rates throughout the nation. Many state officials have said that the increase in foster care cases is a direct result of this epidemic. In order to ensure that appropriate services are provided to these children, it is essential that the number of children who are placed in foster care as a result of parental opioid use is accurately documented. Only once the true scope of the problem is known can we ensure resources are allocated appropriately.

This problem also demands a deep understanding of opioid use and the way it can impact the family system. Parental opioid misuse is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) which, without intervention, has the potential to negatively impact crucial aspects of a child’s life trajectory including physical and emotional health, financial stability and educational opportunities. With the understanding of the impact of opioid misuse on the family system comes an opportunity to equip child welfare workers with necessary tools to lessen this impact and make sure appropriate resources are available in the event they are deemed necessary.

Historically, substance use disorder training has not been a focal point in child welfare worker training. But given the impact of the opioid crisis on children and families and its effect on the family unit it is clear that child welfare workers, family courts and other systems that interface with the child welfare system must be stigma-free, trauma-informed and understanding of opioid use disorder as a chronic relapsing disease, as well as trained in concrete ways to address opioid abuse and heal children and families.