Abandoned Children: How the opioid crisis is affecting foster care children

Abandoned Children

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The foster care system in Missouri is busting at the seams, in part due to the growing opioid epidemic.
In 2008, there were 14,500 children in the system.  Today, that number stands at 21,031.
In the last decade, the number of foster children has gone up more than four-fold in Boone County.

In fiscal year 2008, there were 97 children in the system.  Now, there are nearly 450 children 
The average age for a child in foster care in Missouri right now is 9 and a half.  That's two years younger than it was 10 years ago, according to social services.

"I had to wedge the door open and I could hear my grandson saying, 'Mommy falled, mommy falled. Mommy get up, mommy get up!"

Christa Harmon's daughter overdosed on heroin in front of her young son at their home.  She was revived with several rounds of Narcan. Now, Harmon's grandson is her foster child.

Beatrice Stewart works for Great Circle of Central Missouri. They are just one of the contractors who works for the Department of Social Services. She said there are more children in the foster care system than there are families and the need keeps growing.

"When a child comes into foster care, legally, that clock starts ticking on what parents have to do to get their kids home. There's a time frame for it," said Stewart.

Not every child goes into the foster care system as a direct reflection of opioid abuse. However, it's definitely an ongoing issue.

"That's another effect that we see with opioid use is that children are lingering in the system longer.  It's harder to engage those parents in treatment. A lot of times they're absent," said Stewart.

That's exactly what Harmon said about her situation.

"He'll say, 'I miss my mommy. When is my mommy coming home?' I always answer, 'As soon as she can come home.'"

Not every child gets to be with a grandparent as their foster parent.

Stewart said, "There's a lot of children who honestly have been abandoned at the hospital.  Parents come in, have them, leave and then we can't find them for months."

This is the cycle that keeps happening over and over to babies being brought into the world by parents addicted to opioids.  From that point on, places like Great Circle work tirelessly to get the child into a home.

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