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Continuing the Effort to Protect Children from Parental Drug Abuse

May 19, 2016

As the House continues efforts to combat the growing opioid epidemic, Members of the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee are looking at other drug epidemics — including the equally troubling heroin crisis — and their affect on children entering the foster care system. At a Subcommittee hearing yesterday, chaired by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R–FL), Members discussed the effectiveness of local programs focused on identifying and serving children most at risk to enter foster care due to parental substance abuse.

Parental drug abuse

As Chairman Buchanan said:

“We’ve been talking about the issue of opioid addiction more broadly these last few weeks here in Congress … While we’ve made great progress, there’s one specific aspect that deserves further attention: the impact parental substance abuse has on families. This crisis has a serious impact on our children, especially those who come into foster care because of parental drug abuse.”

The large increase in heroin and opioid abuse across the country has negatively impacted too many of our nation’s children. Research shows the focus should be toward prevention – aiming to keep more children at home safely – to improve outcomes for children and parents.

The Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) program in Kentucky is on the forefront of that prevention effort. As Tina Willauer, Director of the START program in Kentucky, highlighted:

“It was developed to address the needs of families with infants affected by prenatal exposure during the crack cocaine epidemic. The goals were to keep children safe and reduce placement of these exposed infants within state custody. START was designed as an integrated program that incorporates multiple effective strategies such as family decision making and family preservation into a single program.”

While serving in the Tennessee General Assembly, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) used her background as a nurse to bring the Nurse-Family Partnership – a support program for low-income, first-time mothers – to the state. Despite the program’s remarkable results in prevention, Rep. Black recognized the need for using data to evaluate and improve the program. At the hearing, she stressed the importance for both preventative services and continued evaluation to ensure federally funded programs are serving the families who need it most:

“If you don’t measure something you can’t tell whether it’s working or not. I think one of our problems, Mr. Chairman, is that we spend a lot of money on a lot of different programs. […] I think every dollar we expend from the federal government should be required to have an evaluation tool where we can say that money is actually working. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

With support from child welfare experts and Committee Members, Ways and Means is committed to moving forward to develop a bipartisan, bicameral proposal to keep more children at home safely and better protect them from harm.