West Virginia has the highest drug overdose rates in the country and is in the midst of a foster care crisis. Point in fact, West Virginia has the highest rates of very young children (babies and toddlers) entering the foster care system, at a rate of 20.8 in 1,000; the national average is 6.6 in 1,000. Montana is second highest at 19.6 and Indiana is third at 15.7. These rates are extraordinary but may not only be related to the substance use problem. Ohio and Pennsylvania have also been featured prominently in the overdose death rates nationally, ranking second and third overall, yet Ohio’s rate of very young children entering foster care is 7.5 and Pennsylvania’s is 6.4. Why is West Virginia’s rate of very young foster care entrance more than triple Pennsylvania’s?
An article from Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, suggests that it is not the drug epidemic alone. Stateline challenges direct causation between the drug epidemic and the growing foster care crisis, instead positing that variable state child removal policies also contribute to the uptick in children entering foster care. Mandatory reporting laws, news coverage of abuse and neglect, and availability of foster care homes may all contribute to the increased rate of foster care placement. The article is also not optimistic about hopeful solutions promised by the new Family First Act, the “most extensive reboot of the child welfare system in nearly 40 years,” set to take effect in October 2019. For more on the Stateline article, click here.