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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Vanderbilt: Parental Substance Use Linked to Increase in Infants in Foster Care

The nation’s opioid crisis is a factor in the recent increase in the number of infants entering the nation’s foster care system, with at least half of all infant placements now a result of parental substance use, according to a new analysis from researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the RAND Corporation.

Analyzing national data about the foster care system, the study found 1.3 percent of infants in the U.S. are in foster care, with the number of infants in the system growing by nearly 10,000 from 2011 to 2017. West Virginia, the state with the highest rate of newborns diagnosed with opioid withdrawal after birth, also has the highest rate of infants in foster care at 4.1 percent.

The analysis is published in a “Perspectives” piece in the August special edition of Hospital Pediatrics focused on newborns diagnosed with drug withdrawal after birth, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Recently, Congress made several changes to the U.S. foster care system aimed primarily at trying to keep the mother and newborn together by addressing the treatment needs of both collectively.

“While Congress recently made several improvements to the nation’s child welfare system, there remains a critical need for more funding and modernization to respond to the needs of families affected by the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Stephen Patrick, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy and lead author of the paper. “Often we react to problems like this in silos. The rise of infants in foster care occurs at the intersection of the health care and child welfare systems. We need real and lasting partnerships between health care and child welfare providers to address the needs of our families.”

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