Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Chairs Hearing Examining Impact of Addiction on Kids

May 18, 2016
Press Release
Child Welfare Groups, Local Sheriffs Applaud Congressman’s Efforts

Hillsborough County Organization Testifies on Innovative Approach

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-FL, today chaired a hearing examining the devastating toll drug abuse takes on kids in the child welfare system.

Parental substance abuse is driving an increase in the number of children in foster care, as noted by a recent Wall Street Journal report. In fact, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, of the 353,040 children found to be victims of abuse or neglect in 2014, more than one in four – 91,903 kids – had caregivers with drug abuse problems.

“I’m concerned we haven’t taken a close enough look at the horrifying toll that drug use is taking on kids,” Buchanan said. “While the foster care system provides a vital lifeline to children, we should be doing all we can prevent these traumatic events before they occur.”

Buchanan is the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, which has jurisdiction over federal spending on foster care programs and grants for child welfare services. The panel of expert witnesses described innovative approaches to identifying families in need of critical services before children are put in dangerous situations takes place.

The hearing featured testimony from Bryan Lindert, senior director of quality management at Eckerd Youth Alternatives, a non-profit entity that manages the child welfare system in Hillsborough County, Fla. The county experienced an unprecedented nine deaths from maltreatment in less than three years, according to Eckerd. Eckerd now uses data to predict when kids in the child welfare system are vulnerable and takes parental substance abuse into account when identifying at-risk children.

“The results have been promising,” Lindert said. “In Hillsborough, there were no maltreatment fatalities in the three year period following implementation of the program in the population served by Eckerd.”

“Cutting-edge methods to protect at-risk kids are being developed right in Southwest Florida,” Buchanan said. “Strong families make strong communities, and it is my hope that we can use these new tools to protect children and help families overcome the challenge of parental addiction.”

Buchanan represents Manatee County, the epicenter of the heroin crisis in the state. A total of 388 children in Manatee County were sheltered in out-of-home placements primarily due to substance abuse during the first eight months of 2015, according to the Bradenton Herald.

Regional child welfare officials, substance abuse experts and law enforcement professionals voiced their support for Buchanan’s efforts:

Manatee County Sheriff W. Brad Steube said, “The use of heroin in our community has led to a record number of overdoses and deaths. The story not yet heard are the number of children that are being addicted by their pregnant mothers, and of those children that are removed from homes. We applaud Congressman Buchanan with his efforts in Washington regarding our local heroin crisis, its influence on children and the system responsible for their welfare.”

Sarasota County Sheriff Thomas Knight said, “I applaud Congressman Buchanan for bringing attention to this horrific issue at the federal level. The continued battle to reduce heroin and opioid overdoses is a significant initiative on the part of the Sheriff’s Office. In every instance, the outcome can be damaging but when you talking about the impact this has on children, its effects can last a lifetime.”

Centerstone Behavioral Hospital and Outpatient Practice Chief Clinical Officer Melissa Larkin-Skinner said, “Children belong with their families but when their parents can’t care for them because of an addiction, we must step in. It is emotionally devastating for the family to be separated and it is very traumatic for children. In fact, this affects children forever. Thank you to Congressman Buchanan for continuing to spotlight the disease of addiction and its terrible impact on our society. His tireless efforts are making a difference in this fight.”

Children’s Defense Fund Deputy Director of Child Welfare and Mental Health Stefanie Sprow said, “It was encouraging to reaffirm today that child welfare systems know how to keep children safe and families together in the midst of the current heroin crisis and its increasing demands on our child-serving systems. The time is now to build on what we know works."

Children's Home Society of Florida President and CEO Michael Shaver said, “Sadly, far too many children enter foster care because of their parents’ struggles with substance abuse. I applaud Rep. Buchanan’s efforts.” 

Alliance for Strong Families and Communities Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Mobilization Marlo Nash said, “It is undeniable that the health and development of children is linked to the well-being of their families, yet crises like the opioid epidemic often end up separating children from their homes. Congress can make a big difference in the face of this crisis by financing early interventions, like substance abuse treatment for parents, that work to keep kids with their families. We thank Rep. Buchanan for seeking solutions that recognize that healthy families are vital to ensuring that all children thrive.”