In Tennessee alone, there are more opioid-overdose deaths occurring on a daily basis than there are traffic fatalities – quite an alarming statistic, as most local readers are familiar with the treacherousness that is I-40 (1). Yet while most people can conceive of the variety of ways that opioid addiction wreaks havoc on a victim’s life, many Tennesseans do not realize the troubling link between this crisis and the growing demand for child welfare programs.
According to a March 2018 brief produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “[f]amily-friendly treatment options” for drug addicted parents are in short supply, and there is a general misunderstanding of this between child welfare agencies and the legal system, and no clearly defined path on how to integrate it all into child welfare programs. Specifically, “[c]hild welfare agencies and their community partners are struggling to meet families’ needs. Haphazard substance use assessment practices, barriers to collaboration with substance use treatment providers and other stakeholders, and shortages of foster homes and trained staff undermine the effectiveness of agencies’ responses to families.” (2)
As it often happens across the nation, and certainly here in Tennessee (which has one of the highest opioid rates in America), the epidemic rages on increasing the number of arrests, drug overdose deaths, and hospitalizations, thus increasing the number of children being removed from the custody of their drug-addicted parents and putting more pressure on an already overwhelmed legal system. At present, the Tennessee opioid crisis has driven an increased demand for foster families as now thousands of children in Tennessee are in need of foster care, and the state has experienced a 56% increase in the number of children in foster homes (3). Only a year ago the Tennessean reported on multiple accounts of juveniles sleeping overnights on couches in DCS offices due to a bed shortage in foster homes (4), yet as we have experienced at Held Law Firm, a number of these foster home-bound children will eventually be adopted out of foster care and sadly their grandparents and parents lose all rights to ever see them again.
This miserable scenario usually unfolds in a series of expensive and emotionally-tolling litigation within an saturated legal system, and while all parties involved are attempting to do what is in the best interests of the effected child, it’s no secret that drug-addicted parents are in the throes of a chronic disease, not simply a moral failing, and children suffer when the ties to the families they’ve known and the grandparents they’ve had significant relationships are severed.
One alternative is a type of adoption called “open adoption” which typically involves an agreement between the adoptive parent(s) and the birth parent(s) that allows contact between the adopted child and the birth parents. Many open adoption agreements also include birth grandparents. Open adoptions are not a form of “co-parenting” between birth relatives and the adoptive parents, but rather a preserving of the relationship that once existed between the child and the birth-family member(s). Although open adoptions are not legally enforceable in Tennessee, yet, open adoptions are still a great opportunity to facilitate a cooperative, working relationship between the adoptive family and the child’s parents and grandparents, alleviating the financial/emotional strain of battling through the legal system and benefiting the child by maintaining their connection with their blood relatives.
Next month, check the Held Law Firm website for a blog further explaining what open adoptions are and more on the benefits of open adoptions for children.
If you’d like to schedule a case assessment about an adoption case, or another family law matter, call (865) 685-4780 to set an appointment with a Held Law Firm attorney.