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Report: Percent of children taken from families for substance abuse doubled in 4 years


Staff and wire reports
Wednesday, June 06, 2018

A report released on Tuesday from the University of New Hampshire is shining a light on those living in the shadows of the state’s opioid epidemic: the children who live with their parents’ addictions.

The study says the number of children or youths removed from parental care increased by nearly 200 from 2012 to 2016, and cases that included a substance-related allegation doubled from 30 percent to 60 percent. The Carsey School of Public Policy conducted the research and consulted several child welfare organizations, including the Division for Children, Youth and Families, and more than 40 experts from New Hampshire.

“It’s a powerful study that underscores an issue that we’ve been largely missing in the conversation about the opioid epidemic,” said Moira O’Neill, director of the state’s Office of the Child Advocate.

The research showed that having a parent abusing opioids can have negative consequences on child development, including emotional or behavioral problems and increased likelihood of the child using drugs by age 14.

Study author Kristin Smith said the opioid epidemic in New Hampshire has both hit families and service organizations hard.

“The opioid epidemic in New Hampshire has strained not only the families coping with addiction but also the service providers who work with children and families,” said Smith, family demographer at the Carsey School and research associate professor of sociology, in a press release. “Founded and unfounded cases of child abuse and neglect increasingly involve substance-use-related allegations or a noted risk for substance use.”

The number of children or youths taken from parental care went from 358 in 2012 to 547 in 2016, according to the study, while those that included a substance-related allegation doubled.

Smith’s research also found a 21 percent increase, from 9,248 in 2013 to 11,197 in 2016, in the overall number of child abuse and neglect cases accepted for assessment by New Hampshire’s Division for Children, Youth and Families.

New Futures, a health policy organization, is calling for more legislation to protect these children.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature approved a bill that would provide $5.5 million to help DCYF rebuild its programs. Another bill that passed eliminated language that required families to pay back the cost of voluntary services provided by the agency.

But Rebecca Woitkowski, a policy coordinator for New Futures, said that families are still struggling to find the support they need.

Smith said that a lack of paid family leave and the limited availability of child care are deterrents for parents seeking treatment. The Senate killed a bill in April that would have established a paid family and medical leave program in New Hampshire.

“The legislation was a wonderful first step to see that kind of commitment,” O’Neill said. “We are not finished yet.”