For many children in Ontario County, NY, opiate abuse, specifically heroin, has turned their childhood upside down. With opiate addicted parents unable to take care of their mental and physical needs, an increasing number of children are being placed in foster care. In some instances, parents receive and complete the substance abuse treatment they need to have their children returned to them, while others do not.
According to Eileen Tiberio, Commissioner of the Ontario County Department of Social Services, there were approximately 50 children in foster care one year ago. Her last count saw that number increased to 85. Staff members believe that the 30 percent increase is largely the result of the increasing number of parents addicted to opiates.
Tiberio stated, “(Parents under the influence) are unable to recognize what’s going on around them, maybe unable to meet a small child’s needs. Opiate addiction is a very powerful addiction where it becomes all consuming. The needs of the child become secondary.”
With the state of New York and Ontario County in the midst of a heroin and opiate epidemic, this number is likely to get higher before it begins to decrease. For the Department of Social Services, this creates a significant problem. They lack the number of foster homes they need to care for the influx of children.
For the Department of Social Services, the number of groups of siblings being placed in foster care is especially challenging. It can be very difficult to find homes that will take more than one child at a time. For the children involved, they are faced with losing their daily contact with their siblings in addition to their parents. This can be particularly heartbreaking.
Tiberio reports, "When a group of children is removed from their home … it creates issues of its own in terms of being able to place children together in a foster home, and that they are seeing each other and they are visiting with each other, and seeing their parents. It becomes challenging."
According to the Child Welfare League of America, children placed in foster care as the result of parents struggling with substance abuse tend to suffer from severe behavioral and emotional problems. They frequently exhibit one or more of the following symptoms including inability to form attachments with others and/or an inability to trust others, decreased ability to concentrate, an increased inclination toward risky behavior, especially the use of drugs and alcohol as they get older, and a poor outlook for the future.
These facts do not bode well for the Department of Social Services. As the number of children being placed in foster care continues to rise, it may become increasingly difficult to find foster homes that are able to handle the needs of these children.