Foster Care:

Parental Drug Abuse Has Alarming Impact on Young Children

HEHS-94-89: Published: Apr 4, 1994. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed foster care, focusing on the sizes and characteristics of the populations of young foster children in 1986 and 1991.

GAO found that: (1) the 1991 population of young foster children was much larger than the 1986 population and its rate of increase was twice the rate for the general foster care population and over 5 times the rate for the population of all young children; (2) more foster children in 1991 were placed in foster care because of neglect and caretaker absence or incapacity; (3) 78 percent of the foster children in 1991 had at least one drug- or alcohol-abusing parent compared to 52 percent in 1986; (4) 58 percent of foster children in 1991 had health-related problems and 62 percent had a higher risk for future problems because of prenatal drug exposure compared to 43 percent and 29 percent, respectively, in 1986; (5) the number of drug-exposed children could be underreported because of reliance on mothers' self-reporting of drug use and hospitals' failure to perform toxicology tests on all mothers and infants at birth; (6) 17 percent of the foster children in 1986 were exposed to cocaine compared to 55 percent in 1991; (7) more foster children in 1991 were eligible for federal maintenance payments than in 1986; and (8) the increasing number of young foster children and their high percentage of health problems has adversely impacted federal and state funds for foster care, particularly in providing drug treatment services to pregnant women and mothers, and developmental and health therapies for drug-exposed children.

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