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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: December 16, 2020 02:04 PM
From: Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill
To: All Senate members
Subject: Ensuring a Drug-Free Home for Foster Children
Pennsylvania is experiencing high rates of drug-abuse. Drug-related deaths have increased 32% in the past year. That means there are roughly 10 Pennsylvanians who die every day from drug misuse. Heroin, cocaine and marijuana use continues to rise, along with the increase in the co-occurring use of fentanyl and synthetic fentanyl. This rise in drug-abuse affects all categories of Pennsylvanians, including those who provide the primary care for our children in the child welfare system.

Each year hundreds of children in Pennsylvania must be removed from their biological parents and placed with a resource family. These resource families may be comprised of kinship parents (i.e. blood relatives) or foster parents. The number one cause of the removal of the child from the biological home is documented neglect of the child. And when a child is removed from the home due to neglect, substance abuse within the home is found in 40-80% if these cases.

We have a compelling responsibility to ensure that children removed from a neglectful home are placed into a safe environment, free from drug abuse. Sadly, children’s agencies do report that children removed from a drug-abusing home may later find themselves placed in another home where drug-abuse is present. The true magnitude of this situation is unknown, as there is no reliable data within the Commonwealth on the incidence of drug abuse by resource parents. Caseworker observations regarding drug use by resource parents are typically noted long-hand, then typed into a narrative report back at the office, printed, and the paper copy filed away. This information does not exist in any database.

Moreover, in the Commonwealth there is no required or systematic up-front testing of prospective resource parents for drug use, nor for already certified resource parents. Experienced caseworkers report that applicants who are drug-abusers are often skilled at being able to conceal their habit during interviews and home visits.

In the near future I plan to reintroduce Senate Bill 641 of last session that addresses our lack of knowledge of the magnitude of the resource parent drug problem by providing for testing, data gathering and analyses, and treatment options to retain otherwise qualified resource parents. My bill provides for a robust study to: 1) obtain valid, reliable data on the number of resource parents abusing drugs, and the types of drugs being abused; 2) determine the effectiveness and efficiency of mobile devices in recording, retrieving and analyzing results of caseworker observations on drug use; and 3) evaluate and recommend cost-effective treatment options for those resource parents abusing drugs.

Please join me in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation to protect our children whom have been entrusted to the care of the Commonwealth.
Previous co-sponsors of this legislation include Senators K. Ward and J. Ward.