One of the most heart breaking aspects of addiction is the effect it has on children and families. There are approximately 200,000 children in foster care because their parents are addicted. Although there is no question that some form of intervention needs to happen, especially for the wellbeing of the children, just how that should take place is easier said than done.
Congresswoman Kristi Noem of South Dakota recently introduced legislation to help this situation, and she’s getting a lot of support. The bill, H.R. 2857, is called the Supporting Families in Substance Abuse Treatment Act and recently passed the House and is on to the Senate. It seeks to provide funding for treatment programs that help keep families together rather than sending kids off to foster care.
Treatment centers that provide adequate facilities for children to remain with parents during rehabilitation are few and far between. This is despite the evidence shows that keeping children with parents who receive treatment is more effective for both the adults and the kids long-term.
This unprecedented move would help to restore family structures that are so often beyond repair after the child is placed in foster care. Oftentimes the child, who likely has lived with several different families while in the state’s custody, loses the trust and security that the parent is supposed to offer. And while drug abuse certainly reduces that trust, allowing the child to stay with a parent who is willing to go to treatment and get better helps to maintain the trust and security the child needs and deserves.
“I think it would be very hard for the children – or for all of them, probably – to work with each other when that trust has been broken. In that capacity, I was an advocate for the children, and it was very hard, especially when the child can’t trust their own parent or has been hurt so many times because of alcohol and drug abuse or whatever else it may be,” explained Anna Wahcahunka, a counselor at a treatment center that deals with the fall out of parent drug abuse problems.
“Drug treatment programs that keep families together and children out of foster care have proven to produce better outcomes for both the parent and child,” said Rep. Noem in a release. “Even so, government-induced barriers exist that make a family-focused approach difficult. I’m hopeful the Supporting Families in Substance Abuse Treatment Act will offer another evidence-based tool to those on the drug abuse epidemic’s front line, helping them strengthen families and change lives.”
The bill works by providing families that have a parent enrolled in a state-approved treatment facility with income that would have otherwise gone to a foster family. In order to qualify, treatment programs have to offer parenting skills training, parent education and individual and family counseling. The length of the stay can be no longer than 12 months, but many believe this is an adequate amount of time to regain the family structure and start to repair the damage caused by the drug or alcohol abuse.
The magnitude of the drug problem in America still has not yet fully been realized. This is largely due to the number of people who are dependent on or abusing their prescribed medications as well as the more obvious illicit drug use. Tens of millions of people in the country are in need of help, and finding ways to not only create positive change now in terms of rehabilitation and prevention, but also long-term improvements through policy improvements are essential.