Earlier this year, the Commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) told the state’s governor that “since 2016, there’s been a 10.3 percent increase in the number of kids in foster care.”
Commissioner Jennifer Nichols made the statement in the midst of state budget hearings, during which DCS requested $78.2 million in new dollars to help fund the department, which has seen “increased expenditures across the board,” she said.
In fact, there are now upwards of 8,000 children and adolescents in foster care settings in Tennessee. To help put that number in perspective: If all the foster kids in the state were to attend a Nashville Sounds baseball game, they would fill more than 90 percent of the seats at First Tennessee Park.
Unfortunately, neither the governor nor the Commissioner expects the trend to reverse itself anytime soon, hardly surprising considering that “[f]igures from the DCS show there’s been a 15 percent increase since 2016 in the number of kids entering state custody, where parental substance abuse was identified as a factor.”
The good news is that Tennessee has taken significant steps to combat opioid abuse, including the creation of a database that allows physicians to see what other prescriptions a patient has at a given time.
Meanwhile, new laws effective last year require “doctors and other healthcare providers [to] adhere to new limits and specific requirements for opioid prescribing,” notes the Tennessee Medical Association.
What Can We Do?
Even if the opioid crisis has already reached its apex in Tennessee, the crisis has been particularly acute. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes, it was just three years ago that Tennessee was the third highest prescriber of opioids among the fifty states.
Driven largely by the opioid epidemic, the number of kids entering foster care in Tennessee has jumped by more than 10 percent in the past two years, straining the budget of the Department of Children’s Services.
And, as recently as two years ago, there were (still) 94.4 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents, though that’s an improvement over prior years, when Tennessee had more active opioid prescriptions than people.
The result is that the crisis is impeding Tennessee’s efforts to reduce the number of children and adolescents in foster care. Part of the solution may be to boost support for kinship families, as in many cases, grandparents or other relatives are stepping up to take care of children whose parents have overdosed or become addicted to opioids.
But the bottom line is that the state also needs more people who want to become foster parents in Tennessee.
Tennessee Foster Care Study
According to State Practices in Treatment/Therapeutic Foster Care, Tennessee “state officials [note] that they have approximately 4,000 certified foster homes (therapeutic foster care and traditional) but only about half of those homes are accepting children.”
The reasons for this are numerous. Some foster parents take breaks between placements, and some have chosen to adopt and don’t have the resources or capacity to take in new foster placements, to name but two examples.
At the same time, the number of available foster parents isn’t evenly distributed across Tennessee. In general, more foster parents are needed in rural parts of the state, especially in light of the fact that rural counties have tended to be most-hard-hit by the opioid crisis. That is, counties with the most opioid prescriptions per 100 people are primarily in rural areas.
Want to Become a Foster Parent?
If you think you might be interested in becoming a foster parent in Tennessee, we encourage you to learn more about the benefits of being a foster parent. Then complete our information request form or contact the Omni Visions foster care location nearest to your home.
Since 1991, Omni has specialized in providing training and support to caregivers so foster children can reach their fullest potential. Together we can provide a brighter future of Tennessee’s children. Give us a call toll-free at (800) 851-6108.