AUSTIN, Texas — Child welfare advocates say the opioid epidemic is trapping Texas children in a cycle of addiction.
Child welfare advocates are calling for the state to spend more on addiction prevention and treatment.
While the Department of Family and Protective Services doesn’t collect data on opioid abuse and the state’s foster care system, some say the opioid epidemic could have a serious impact.
"A very rural phenomenon in terms of the rate," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.
Youth advocates say that rural parts of Texas are seeing a significant increase of children going into foster care because of substance abuse. Officials say in some counties, up to two-thirds of foster care placements are due to drugs.
"We need to address the root cause, starting with healing struggling families, and making foster care more humane for the children who wind up there," said Sherry Lachman of Foster America.
Child welfare advocates say stopping addiction early and keeping families together can also help the Texas economy. They say these types of programs are less costly to the state than sending children to foster care or the juvenile justice system.
However, the Department is Family and Protective Services, which wasn’t included in the hearing, disputes that opioid and drug abuse are currently placing a strain on Texas’ foster care system.
“Substance abuse has always been a major factor in kids coming into foster care,” said DFPS Spokesperson Patrick Crimmins. “What strains the system is the lack of capacity for high-needs kids, not drug abuse.”
Still, youth advocates say Texas will save money in the long run by keeping foster children from falling into a cycle of substance abuse.
"It's penny-wise and pound-foolish not to be spending money on the upstream root causes of these other social problems down the road. Namely, not to be spending money on improving the child welfare system in the right effective way," Lachman said.