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County: Parental drug abuse contributes to uptick in child placements

The goal of child protective services is to keep families together whenever possible. Unfortunately, the trend in Goodhue County and throughout the state is that out-of-home placements are increasing.

In 2017, 110 children were placed out of the home in Goodhue County. Some placements were brief, while other children were out of their homes for the entire year. The majority of children (91) were in foster care, either with relatives who were licensed for foster care, or with non- relative foster parents. Thirteen children were in residential treatment to address significant mental health or behavior issues; four youths ages 18-21 were in extended foster care placements; and two were in other arrangements.

The reasons for placement vary, but there are some consistent themes. Parental drug abuse was the primary reason for out-of-home care in Goodhue County. Many of these placements began with a police drug raid at the home where drugs were found in the presence of children.

Other placements are initiated due to prenatal exposure to drugs, or because parents are so drug affected that they are unable to supervise their children or get them to school every day.

The primary drug of choice in Goodhue County child protection cases is methamphetamine by a large margin. While the country is dealing with an opiate epidemic, our child protection system in Goodhue County is not experiencing the full effects of that epidemic yet.

Some of the children who are in residential treatment due to their own behavioral/mental health issues also grew up with parents abusing alcohol and drugs. These children may remain in residential treatment programs for months, and returning home is difficult. And these statistics do not include juvenile criminal offenders who have often experienced multiple traumas including abuse, neglect, and parental substance use.

State trends

Our statistics mirror the trends in the state of Minnesota. In 2016, 30 percent of the children who entered out-of-home care in Minnesota were placed due to parental drug or alcohol abuse.

Removing children from the home due to parental drug or alcohol abuse has risen by 25 percent just since 2015, and it is now the leading cause of out of home placement in Minnesota.

While the financial cost of these cases is huge, the human cost of child placement is incalculable.

When children experience out-of-home care, it is a trauma in itself. Children may be safer in out-of-home placement, but the disruption to their attachment can have serious long-term effects.

This is not a reason to avoid placement when it is necessary to assure safety, but it is a reason for us to do everything we can to prevent safety issues from ever arising.

What can be done?

We need more prevention and intervention strategies at every level to address these complicated issues. At the prevention level, we need strong support for children and families to prevent drug use and abuse. When these protective factors are in place, research demonstrates that abuse and neglect — including neglect connected to substance abuse — are less likely to occur:

• Healthy parent-child attachment

• Social support

• Concrete support for basic needs

• Parental resilience

• Knowledge of parenting and child development

• Social and emotional competence of children

We can support our community members in any number of ways — providing social support could be as simple as listening to a neighbor who is overwhelmed with her child. Improving social and emotional competence of children could be as simple as giving to the Environmental Learning Center or the YMCA to support their scholarships.

When substance abuse is already occurring, we need strong intervention to support and strengthen families. Access to chemical dependency treatment, drug court and mental health services are all vital. In addition, families need safe and affordable housing, flexible employment, transportation and childcare. Many out of home placements are preventable, but changes must occur at the individual, family and community levels.

Finally, Goodhue County is always in need of foster parents. If you are interested in learning more, or becoming a foster parent, please contact Goodhue County Health and Human Services at 651-385- 3200 and ask for foster care licensing.

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