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DCS Sees Rise in Children Needing Stable Homes amid Opioid Crisis

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The stats are staggering.

The Tennessee Department of Child Services says there has been a 51 percent increase in parents losing the legal right to care for their kids since 2010.

That's putting strain on the state's foster care system.

"We certainly seen an increase in the number of children coming into foster care over the past 5 years and that can be directly attributed to the opioid epidemic," Keith Bailey, the director of training at Harmony Family Center in West Knoxville, said.

DCS has asked for $78 million in additional funding to help address the need of the 8,000 Tennessee children looking for a stable home.

Bailey trains foster parents to address the varying needs of children taken from parents addicted to drugs.

"They're trained to realize that these children are going to come in with challenging behavior because they've had very challenging lives," he said.

He says DCS is seeing more and more cases of neglect -- not abuse -- when it comes to children of the opioid epidemic.

"When a family member or primary caregiver is addicted to drugs it usually creates a lot of stress and a log of neglect in the home," he said.

That can lead kids to adopt a survival instinct that can remain even after they're placed with a loving family.

"Even though the foster families feed them well, show them where food is, let them know they can have food at any time, the child will hoard food. They'll keep it under their bed, in their backpack in the closest."

Part of his job is to use innovative therapy and guidance for foster families so that kids can learn and grow -- and he says their foster parents can see the difference.

"They start to relax, they start to interact with the family. They start to play."

Bailey says besides becoming a foster parent, there are other opportunities to help, too. The Harmony Family Center looks for volunteers to participate in their programs including animal assisted therapy.

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