Since 2012, Indiana has seen a more than 50 percent increase in children in need of foster care, a problem that is attributed to drug addiction, according to the Indiana Youth Institute.
That problem is also being felt locally.
Katina Silver is the director of the Howard County Court Appointed Special Advocate program, or CASA. CASAs are typically volunteers who advocate for foster care children in court. CASA volunteers work with the Department of Child Services, the children’s families and their placements to advocate for the child’s best interest, whether it is to return home or be placed for adoption. These children are deemed children in need of services, or CHINS.
Over the last few years, the Howard County CASA office has seen a somewhat steady increase in the number of CHINS cases because of substance abuse. Silver estimated that around 90 percent of the CHINS cases they’re working with right now are due to substance abuse, whether it be opioids, meth, alcohol or other substances.
According to the Indiana Youth Institute, nearly 10 percent of Hoosier children are reported to have lived with an adult with an alcohol or drug problem.
With so many children flooding the system due to their parents’ substance abuse, the foster care system as a whole is strained.
“It’s an overburdened system with the number of kids coming into care to begin with,” Silver said. “So this is putting more pressure on the system because we need more [foster families or placements].”
It’s a problem with no easy solution, Silver said. A lot of it comes down to the parents.
“Until parents are ready to stop using, there’s nothing that can be done to make them stop,” she said. “If losing your child isn’t their bottom. … The system can give them the services, and I never, ever think it’s a waste of time to send them to an inpatient treatment facility or give them any kind of drug treatment services because when they are ready to stop, they’ll have the tools and the skills that they need because they were given those things when they were part of our system.”
In 2017, Howard County saw 125 CHINS cases where children needed either a foster home or a relative or kinship placement.
This number was actually lower than in 2016, and Silver said it may be due in part to DCS working with parents with substance abuse issues to provide in-home services in an effort to avoid removing children from their homes.
“If those parents are successfully doing services without the need for court involvement, that’s great,” Silver said. “I do know that if there’s one sober or clean caregiver in the home, they can do an [informal adjustment] and just put a safety plan in that the abuser will not be left alone with the child or children at any time.”
CASA is not involved in these cases because the children have not been removed from the home, and Silver said she can’t speak to how effective these informal adjustments may be. The local DCS office did not return repeated requests for interviews.
But data shows that parents who abuse substances are more likely to abuse or neglect their children, according to the Indiana Youth Institute. Substance abuse can lead to poor mental functioning, judgement and self-control and trouble with regulating anger and impulsive behavior.
The Indiana Youth Institute provides data on how foster care can affect children. For one thing, children in foster care are more likely to face “behavioral and emotional problems, difficulties in school and poor physical and mental health,” according to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book.
Children who experience multiple placements may face additional challenges, especially with planning for their futures and making lasting relationships. Parents who abuse substances are also not always stable influences in a child’s life, which can further lead to impaired relationships.
“Kids are smart,” Silver said. “They know, even if they’re younger, what their parents are doing. I had a 3-year-old one time that he knew if mom didn’t come for visits, he would be like, ‘Well, is she in jail again? Is she drunk?’”
In some ways, drug abuse cases can be some of the most difficult for Silver’s volunteers, she said.
“When [parents] miss a visit or when they’re not around, [kids] might ask those questions like, ‘Why can’t they stop using drugs to get me back?’ or, ‘Why does she care more about drugs than she does about me?’”
She added that parents with substance abuse issues are more likely to miss visits with their children, and if they relapse, they may disappear completely.
“You may have a parent that is clean for two months, and then they relapse and can’t visit for three weeks, and sometimes when they relapse they go off the grid – they just disappear.”
But she also can’t say whether it’s harder for kids to be removed because of parental drug abuse or because of physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
“It’s definitely hard on any kid being removed from home,” she said.
Education could be the key to breaking the cycle of substance abuse, Silver suggested. Starting education on substance abuse should start early and continue as a child moves through school.
“There needs to be continued education,” Silver said. “It needs to be a constant conversation. As a parent, I talk to my kids about it, but some kids are not being talked to about it, whether their parents just aren’t thinking about it or maybe their parents are in that group of people who are using.”
Silver said she’s worked with children who have not only watched their parents use drugs, their parents have encouraged them to do the same.
“When you have those situations, it’s really difficult to fight that battle, but I do think it needs to be a constant education for kids in school.”