Parents Who Can't Stop Using, Kids Sent to Foster Care

The US foster system is overwhelmed because of the opioid epidemic
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2017 3:53 PM CDT
How Parents' Opioid Use Is Burdening Foster Care
Sad.   (Getty Images/tatyana_tomsickova)

"I felt like I lost my mom to this pit that I couldn't pull her out of." That's how 20-year-old Brianna McLaughlin describes her mom, Kelly, after the former Head Start caseworker became addicted to OxyContin, then heroin, after neck surgery. As Julia Lurie details for Mother Jones, although Brianna's 16-year-old brother, Matt, had relatives to stay with during Kelly's latest stint in detox, the foster system around the nation has become overwhelmed with other kids who aren't so lucky—victims of the opioid epidemic who are forced to grow up too quickly, often assuming household duties typically undertaken by adults, while their parents are mired in their addictions. Lurie notes there were 30,000 more US kids in foster care in 2015 than in 2012 (an 8% increase), mainly because of the opioid crisis, which involves everything from painkillers and heroin to the even deadlier fentanyl.

"I can't remember the last time I removed a kid and it didn't have to do with drugs," notes Kerri Mongenel, a children's caseworker in Ohio, which has one of the country's highest overdose rates. "Every OD that happens [in Ashtabula County], I get a text. I've gotten two texts while we've been talking," an Ashtabula detective tells Lurie after less than an hour of conversation. Lurie notes the promises presidential candidate Trump made to fight Ohio's drug problem—vows that appear to have "fizzled," she writes. Meanwhile, caseworkers like Mongenel continue to try to help the kids caught in the middle. "I used to get really pissed off at people—like how could you just let me take your kids and then go on a bender?" Mongenel says. Now, after learning how opioids affect parents' brains, she thinks: "Without the drugs, what would they be like?" More on the kids' heartbreaking situations here. (West Virginia residents are fighting their own opioid woes.)

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