ANNAPOLIS – Maryland ranked second among states for reporting foster children who have substance-abusing parents, according to a Capital News Service analysis of foster care records from 2001.
“That’s the main reason for neglect,” said Peter Beilenson, Baltimore’s health care commissioner. “It’s an overwhelming problem.”
About 47 percent of children in the Maryland foster care system in 2001 had a parent with a substance-abuse problem, according to an analysis of the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System maintained by the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect.
The rate ranks Maryland higher than any other state except Oregon, which cited substance-abusing parents as a reason for removal in 48 percent of its 13,000 foster-care cases in 2001. The average national rate of foster care cases with substance-abusing parents reported was about 22 percent for 2001.
Officials say part of the reason Maryland ranks so high is that the state has placed an emphasis on identifying the problems of parents whose children are placed in state custody. A report from the state Citizens’ Review Board for Children noted a 600 percent increase in documentation of parental substance abuse as a case factor between 1991 and 2001.
“We are not the only place with this problem,” said Beilenson, calling the national rate “ridiculous.”
The state has been aggressive in looking beyond what used to be the three main reasons for removal — neglect, abuse and abandonment — to more of the contributing factors, said Sharon Hargrove, foster care manager for the state.
“I think Maryland is pretty progressive,” she said. The early identification of parents’ problems is important, she said, because if the problems can be dealt with, the family can often be reunited.
Part of the state’s aggressiveness came from a bill passed in 2000 aimed at integrating child welfare and substance abuse treatment services. The integration includes placing addiction specialists in local departments of social services, screening parents involved with the child welfare system for substance abuse and cross-training caseworkers.
Implementing parts of the bill has been slow because of budget constraints, said Charlie Cooper of the Citizens’ Review Board for Children.
“We know what to do to solve this, but we’re not exactly moving full speed ahead,” said Cooper.
Progress has been picking up lately, according to Hargrove. She said the state recently finished cross-training 720 workers.
Linking the child welfare system to other systems, like substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence, is key, Cooper said.
“We have to have an integrated approach,” he said. “We can’t solve foster care with foster care.”
There were 15,628 children in Maryland’s foster care system in 2001, and about 7,300 cases cited either parental drug or alcohol abuse, or both, as a reason for removal. More than 5,000 listed both parental drug abuse and neglect as factors.
“What this boils down to is neglect,” Cooper said. “A lot of these kids have been through similar experiences that kids who have been abused go through.”
One of the crucial aspects of addressing the problem is offering child care for patients in substance abuse treatment programs, according to Beilenson.
“The single biggest obstacle to treatment is child care,” he said.
About 72 percent of cases citing substance-abusing parents were located in Baltimore, which used to offer drop-off child care for all 20 of its outpatient substance-abuse treatment centers, some open to men and women. But after a $1.3 million cut in child-care funding, he said only between five and eight of the programs still include child care.