NEWPORT—The words opioid and children seem like they should never be linked together, but for an increasingly tragic number of Cocke County children, the reality of parental substance abuse leaves many children facing the traumatic, but necessary removal from their home by the Department of Children’s Services.

Currently Tennessee ranks third in the nation for the highest number of opioid prescriptions, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.

Illegal usage of opioids and the increase in usage of street drugs has caused a surge in terminated and parental rights by DCS. Many child welfare agencies are left scrambling to find homes for these children suddenly in need of foster care.

“Out of the four years I worked in Cocke County, only four of the cases in those four years did not include drug use,” said DCS Resource Linkage Coordinator Rob Burke.

Burke currently works within the Smoky Mountain region of Cocke, Claiborne, Granger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Sevier and Blount.

Youth Villages Therapeutic Foster Care Clinical Supervisor Amber Newman sees much of the same issues as DCS and said that at least 90% of their cases have some history of substance abuse.

County Foster Numbers Show Emergency Need

As of last week, there were 73 Cocke County children in the DCS foster care system and only 14 foster homes in the county. Three of those homes are kinship homes that are only “open” because they took in a family member.

This currently leaves the county with only 11 traditional functioning foster homes.

The deficit in foster families to supply this ever-growing need is at a near crisis level for the state and many child placement agencies. Due to the entire region lacking sufficient numbers of fosters, children have to frequently be transferred out to other counties.

Burke describes the home removal as being traumatic for the child and is usually compounded by whatever devastating residual effects are caused by the abuse or neglect that initiated that removal.

“And to add to that now we are going to likely have to send that child out of the area which means a new school, leaving friends or a church, possibly a teacher they had grown close with,” said Burke.

The need for foster homes has come from a steady increase since 2010 of parents having their rights terminated, the 51 percent increase parallels the 56 percent increase in children waiting to be adopted.

A Youth Villages (YV) press release states that over 8,000 children in Tennessee are categorized as being in foster care, and says many of these children are orphans of the opioid crisis.

Fixing the Family

A main focus at the core for child-based agencies is the reunification of families and assisting with family stability by linking parents with resources and therapies that may be helpful and lawfully required.

DCS will go as far as to provide the financial means needed to pay for substance abuse rehabilitation or mental health therapy if the parent cannot afford it on their own.

At Youth Villages they provide therapy and foster care training.

“We work closely with DCS to get any resources that might support foster families or work to reunify a child with their biological family,” said Newman.

The YV Intercept program reaches children from infant to 18 who have been through emotional trauma from abuse and neglect by providing in home services.

“In almost every case we see, the parent has also experienced childhood trauma of some kind, whether it’s abuse, being molested, or neglect and it gets carried over into their adult life. So yes we do offer the parent mental health therapy as well,” said Burke.

Working through mental health issues and addressing substance dependency is key in helping parents retain their rights and allow children to remain in their home.

Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent or wanting more information can contact the agencies listed above.

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