By Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service (AZ)
PHOENIX – As the opioid crisis has grown in recent years, so has the number of children no longer able to safely live with their parents.
Children’s welfare advocates say it’s important to support the foster parents and extended families increasingly being called on to care for children.
As more U.S. parents addicted to opioids face incarceration, rehab or overdose, more children are in need of safe homes, creating more demand for foster care, according to the children and families advocacy organization Generations United.
As of 2016, about 17,000 Arizona children were in foster care, out of about 400,000 nationwide.
Jaia Lent, deputy executive director of Generations United, says those numbers are only a small part of the picture.
“For every one child in foster care with relatives, there are actually 20 being raised outside of foster care with grandparents or other relatives,” she points out. “So we really want to be supporting the children and the family if the child can’t remain with their parents, whether they’re in foster care or outside of foster care.”
In response to the growing need for foster caregivers, Congress in February passed the Family First Prevention Services Act. The law provides more funding for programs such as parenting classes, substance abuse treatment and mental health services – all designed to prevent children from being placed in foster care.
The U.S. Senate this year also is recognizing Thursday as National Foster Parent Appreciation Day.
Lent hopes that as policymakers increase support for foster families, they also will continue to support relatives caring for children outside the system.
As demand for caregivers rises, Lent says grandparents and other relatives are increasingly the ones stepping in to care for children.
“The positive news about relying on relatives is that we know that children actually do better when they are placed with supported relatives versus non-relatives,” she states.
Lent says children who can’t remain under their parents’ care for whatever reason often experience serious trauma, but she says research shows children who are able to stay with other family members typically show better mental and behavioral health.