Across Pennsylvania, the increase of opioid abuse has sent thousands of children flooding into the foster-care system. These children have been abandoned or taken from their parents, and in some cases orphaned because their guardians suffered a fatal overdose.
This year, the city Department of Human Services (DHS) put out an "urgent" call for more families to foster or adopt children. But we are short by several hundred families. According to data from the Federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, the increase in the number of children who came into foster care as a result of parental drug abuse was far greater than increases for other reasons, such as housing instability. According to DHS reports, more than half of the children placed in Pennsylvania foster care were removed from their family home because of drug use by one or both parents.
This overwhelming burden on the foster-care system is straining the state's limited resources.
House Bill 2544, the Adoption and Foster Care Tax Credit, is simple, but its reach could impact the lives of more than 16,000 children in Pennsylvania. This first-of-its-kind legislation would provide a $500 foster-care tax credit and a $1,000 adoption tax credit for families who provide permanency to children in the care of Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services.
This legislation could be the motivating factor for people interested in fostering or adopting but concerned about the costs.
Foster parents are the forgotten heroes of the system. They provide temporary care in their own homes, bringing stability to a child during a time of trauma. In addition to providing an environment that supports the child's safety and development, they assist the child's parents in resuming responsibility and custody, or in securing an alternative placement of the child for a few days until another family member or opportunity is identified to keep the child safe and move toward family reunification.
Foster parents are not paid to care for these children, although they are provided a small stipend to meet the needs of the children in their care. (In Philadelphia, the regular stipend is about $900 per month; in other counties, it is often even lower.) This stipend doesn't put a dent in the costs and the time it takes to care for the child.
I see firsthand the adversity that Philadelphia's children face on a daily basis. Our foster-care program helps more than 600 of Philadelphia's children find safe, healthy home environments. Our case managers work closely with all parties involved, including the biological and foster families, DHS, and the court system to address and rectify problems and place children back in their original home. Even a short stay in foster care helps these children and families recover from the crises that led them to become involved in the child welfare system in the first place.
Please reach out to your legislator to support this bill and help Pennsylvania pave the way for all states to create better outcomes for Pennsylvania's most vulnerable children. When we see the opioid crisis through the eyes of our children, we have a moral obligation to do something about this.
Dawn Holden Woods is CEO of Turning Points for Children, a subsidiary of Public Health Management Corp.