Opioid addiction taking heavy toll on children, Tennessee struggling with demand of foster care needs

ABC Tri-Cities

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) Between the years of 2000 and 2015, the state of Tennessee saw an increase in opioid and opioid-related deaths. Now, in Tennessee and other states are struggling to keep up with the need for foster and adoptive homes.

In the state of Tennessee, there are about 8,000 children in foster care. About 800 of them are in Northeast Tennessee.

Foster care agencies like Youth Villages work to provide resources to families interested in fostering or adopting by providing livable and supportive homes.

In January, the agency will be begin a new training curriculum to ensure parents are fully prepared.

Children enter the foster care system for many reasons, but opioid addiction has caused a spike in the need, in Tennessee.

According to ChildTrends.org, in 2017, Tennessee was in the top twenty states with the highest number of kids in foster care with 8,166.

“We have about 4,000 families that are willing to foster these kids, so there is a gap there,” Maggie Parris said.

Parris works are a clinical supervisor for the multi-systemic therapy program at Youth Villages.

“There are other services, including residential treatment services but that is more stressful and more traumatizing on kids to go into places like that. They really need supportive and caring adults,” Parris said.

Programs that help prevent kids form getting into custody include:

  • Intercept Program
  • Multi-systemic Therapy Program
  • Multi-systemic Therapy for Child Abuse and Neglect

Foster parent recruiter and trainer, Jesse Bernardini walks parents through the process of training and certification.

“We really hope that with training, they can widen their trauma lens and understand that these kids may have emotional behavioral issues that may come up from being removed from their home,” Bernardini said. “We make sure that parents are ready to handle those trauma behaviors that may come up. We are a therapeutic foster care agency, so we highlight a lot of our training on trauma.”

Beginning in January 2020, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will start a new pre-approval curriculum for parents interested in foster care, called Tennessee Key.

Training usually takes about 6-7 weeks.

Bernardini explained, “We move at your pace, so if you’re eager, we work with you at your pace and if you are slow and steady and want to take your time and making sure this is the right decision for you and your family, I can work at that pace as well.”

There is also a need for homes for children with more mental and behavioral needs. Bernardini said when some of these kids are displaced from their homes, they are traumatized because of the change of routine.

“We do have an increase need for foster parents who have the training, who have the willingness and the support to be able to bring those kids into a loving and a supportive environment,” Bernardini said.

Youth Villages also wants parents to know training and fostering to adopt children through the agency is free.

Bernardini said, “We are a private agency so we receive funding from the federal, state and TennCare. There is no price tag attached to fostering to adopt.”

In the last year, Bernardini said foster care homes have increased in Johnson City and Morristown by 4 to 6 homes.

The first way to get involved in foster care is by attending an informational session. The next session hosted by Youth Villages will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

The 2-hour session runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Youth Villages in Johnson City.

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