No. 1 reason children in foster care is parental drug use

Parental substance abuse is the most common primary reason children wind up in foster care, according to a report from Minnesota’s Department of Human Services. It’s the first time drug use has overtaken neglect, the department’s deputy commissioner Chuck Johnson told Minnesota Public Radio News.

Parental substance abuse is the most common primary reason children wind up in foster care, according to a report from Minnesota’s Department of Human Services. It’s the first time drug use has overtaken neglect, the department’s deputy commissioner Chuck Johnson told Minnesota Public Radio News.

The state continues to see increases in both the number of child maltreatment reports and alleged victims over the last few years, and more so within the past year. Minnesota Statutes recognize six types of maltreatment: Neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental injury, emotional harm, medical neglect and threatened injury.

The report shows 27 percent of children placed in foster care in 2016 were removed from their homes due to parental drug use. In addition, parental drug exposure has been on the rise since 2012. There were 1,330 children prenatally exposed to substances and alcohol in Minnesota in 2016, a 113 percent increase since 2012.

The data is part of two reports to the Minnesota Legislature and are a warning sign the state must step-up its efforts to address substance use disorders, Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said

“Substance abuse has reached a crisis in Minnesota,” Piper said. “To protect and safely care for children, we must act quickly to help parents work through their struggles and overcome their addictions.”

Reports of sexual and physical abuse increased in 2016 from the previous year, which could likely be due to changes in how reports are screened after the 2014 death of a child in the state’s protection system. Human services staff first intervenes with the goal of keeping the family together. When it’s clear that won’t work, and for the child’s safety, the child is placed in another home.

Wilkin County Sheriff Rick Fiedler said his agency does not often have to ask Family Services to remove a child from a home due to parental drug use, but they did get two separate call-outs in one day last year, where that scenario happened. In that situation, Family Services is called to remove children from the home.

“I hate to do that. It’s horrible and frightening for the kids to be in a squad car,” he said, “and they remember it.”

He said he’s noticed an increase in drug crimes from all the cases that go through the county courthouse, noting that drug offenders are ordered to take baseline urine tests. He said they probably have 4-5 individuals per month being ordered to take baseline urine tests. Fiedler said meth use appears to be on the rise, not just in the county but across the country, followed by marijuana.

The report states most people who enter chemical dependency treatment usually complete it and show considerable improvement, and abstinence from substance use and other benefits of treatment tend to continue over the long term.

Neglect makes up approximately three-quarters of maltreatment reports in Wilkin County.

Three family factors that can impact neglect are poverty, parental substance abuse, and domestic violence.

In Wilkin County in December 2017, the Family Services Department received 13 child protection reports, and 182 for the entire year. Of those 182, approximately 64 percent were “screened out,” meaning they did not meet the criteria/protocol for a child protection family assessment, family investigation or facility investigation. Of the intake reports, 89 percent were neglect, 58 percent were physical abuse, 6 percent were threatened injury, 4 percent were sexual abuse and 2 percent mental injury.

Wilkin County’s Human Services Director David Sayler shared that in December 2017, the county had eight children in out-of-home care, all boys – six in foster care with either a relative, therapeutic foster home or regular foster home. Two were voluntary and six were court ordered. Of those six, three were correctional placements.

The county’s cost for out-of-home placements in 2017 was $329,180.

“Our numbers have been quite consistent over the past five years, although in 2008, we had an average of 20-25 children placed in out-of-home care at a cost of $888,122,” Sayler said.

The county department also tracks the number of chemical dependency assessments done each year. In 2016, they completed 73 assessments and placed 10 people into inpatient treatment and 13 people into intensive outpatient treatment. In 2017, the department completed 68 chemical dependency assessments and placed 13 people into inpatient treatment and 18 into intensive outpatient treatment.

Becky Tripp, supervisor for Wilkin County’s Social Services Department, said in 2016, her staff worked on 76 child protection/child welfare cases in which 51 percent had drug and/or alcohol-related concerns that contributed to the case. In 2017 they worked on 93 cases in which 53 percent had drug and/or alcohol related concerns that contributed to the case.

Wilkin County Attorney Carl Thunem reported five cases in the county since May 2016 where a parent’s drug use was a cause of the child being placed out of the home.

“Additionally, we have had five children placed out of the home in child protection proceedings (truancy/runaway) where the child’s chemical dependency was the cause of their placement,” he said. “Other children with CD (chemical dependency) issues have been placed out of the home in delinquency matters.”

The state has a number of efforts underway to address problems in the child welfare system including implementing changes recommended by the governor’s task force on the protection of children, published March 25, 2017 which includes short- and long-term steps for improving the child protection system.

“Most children in foster care, 63 percent, left the system in 2016 to safely return home to their parents or other primary caregivers,” Piper concluded. “And last year, families adopted 868 children from the foster care system.”

For more information on child abuse and neglect prevention, visit To view the state’s complete 2016 child maltreatment report, visit

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