What is the primary cause of children needing foster care?

Parental drug abuse!

(Photo by Smoke & Vibe on Unsplash)

Child protection reports continue to increase in Minnesota, and parents’ substance abuse is the most common primary reason for children entering the foster care system, according to information released recently by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. In 2016, more than 39,700 children were the subject of almost 31,000 accepted maltreatment reports.

Of those children placed in foster care and other out-of-home settings, parents’ substance abuse was the primary reason for 27.1 percent of children placed for the first time in 2016, surpassing alleged neglect. In addition, prenatal drug exposure has also been on the rise since 2012. There were 1,330 children prenatally exposed to substances and alcohol in 2016, representing a 113 percent increase since 2012.

The data is part of two reports to the Minnesota Legislature: “Minnesota’s Child Maltreatment Report” on children entering the child protection system, and “Minnesota’s Out-of-Home Care and Permanency Report” on children in out-of-home care and adoptive homes. The reports are yet another warning sign that Minnesota must step up its efforts to address substance use disorders, said Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper.

“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.”

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.

The trend for American Indian children and children who identify as two or more races being disproportionately more likely to experience out-of-home care is also on the rise. In 2010, American Indian children were 14 times more likely than White children to experience out-of-home care, based on 2015 Minnesota population estimates. In 2016, American Indian children were 17.6 times more likely.

For children who identify as two or more races, the change went from being three times more likely to experience out-of-home care than White children in 2010 to 4.8 times more likely in 2016. African American children were four times more likely than White children to experience out-of-home care in 2010. In 2016, African American children were 3.1 times more likely to experience out-of-home care.

A number of efforts are underway to address problems in the child welfare system, including:

  • DHS and Minnesota counties continue to implement the changes recommended by the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children, published in March 2015, with short- and long-term steps for improving the child protection system.
  • The state increased funding for the child protection system by $25 million a year beginning in 2015, with the majority of funding for counties to hire staff and provide services. This increase was a reinvestment after cuts more than a decade earlier.
  • In 2016, the department began working with Collaborative Safety, LLC, to implement a trauma-informed, scientific critical incident review process for child fatalities and near-fatalities due to maltreatment. The review process is designed to analyze the child welfare system to identify opportunities for improvement, as well as address barriers to providing the best possible services to children and families.
  • In 2016, the department awarded $1.5 million per year for two-year grants to tribal, county and community agencies to reduce disparities in the state’s child welfare system. The Minnesota Legislature appropriated these funds to develop, implement and evaluate activities to address disparities and disproportionality in the child welfare system.

“Amidst all of this, we have good news,” said Piper. “Most children in foster care — 63 percent — left the system in 2016 to safely return home to their parents or other primary caregivers. And, last year families adopted 868 children from the foster care system.”


— Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Human Services