Children in foster care on the rise in the Triad

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- The number of children in foster care is on the rise and one strong contributing factor is substance abuse.

Opioid and heroin abuse is the priority in narcotics law enforcement for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.

Lt. Daryl Loftis said that the department has seen a drastic increase in the quantity of drugs on the street.

“From 2011 to now, I ran some numbers, and just in what we're sizing alone we've seen a 2,400 percent increase in the amount of heroin that we're seizing,” Loftis said.

Loftis said no longer are overdose deaths centered within a municipality or particular group of people.

“I’ve seen it grow to all socioeconomic backgrounds from soccer moms to pastors even, and it’s in all walks of life and all parts of the county and the city now,” Loftis said.

Opioids continue to be the number one cause of deaths for people in this county -- but the drug is also influencing the foster care system in the Triad.

One private agency in the Triad that helps support county social services has seen firsthand how the drug affects children.

Ken Maxwell, with Seven Homes Family Foster Care and Adoption Agency, said that many of the referrals into their private agency are because of heroin and/or opioid abuse.

Poverty numbers and the Foster Care 18-21 program supported are some reasons behind the numerical increase but county social services departments also admit substance abuse is a strong factor.

Heroin and opioid addiction and overdoses are becoming a strong factor in the increase of children removed from the home.

"We're starting to get overwhelmed so we do need more families, we need more families that are interested in larger groups of kids," Maxwell said.

Of the 240 children referrals the agency has gotten so far this year to place children, more than half are related to substance abuse.

Substance abuse leads to forms of neglect such as nutrition.

Not only are children separated from homes and may require counseling, but infants are born addicted to opioids or heroin.

"We evaluate them and we see if they need occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, to try and catch up on any delays that being born addicted to drugs may have had on them," Maxwell said.

The agency currently serves 100 children from the Gastonia area to Burlington. Seven Homes also hosts training classes for families interested in foster care and adoption called Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP).

The state curriculum courses also address how to care and nurture children exposed to trauma.

Guilford County Social Services currently has 539 children in foster care as of last month.

In December 2016, social services had 542 children; in 2015, 430 children; and in 2014, 393.