Substance Abuse and Child Welfare Resources


While parental substance abuse is not a new challenge for child welfare agencies, the current opioid epidemic is proving to have an immeasurable impact on foster care caseloads and child welfare budgets across the country.

Child with flowerA great deal of anecdotal information exists about the opioid epidemic and increasing foster care caseloads, but little or no data directly links the two. Here is what we do know:

  • In FY2017, there were nearly 433,000 children in foster care in the U.S., the highest number since 2008. In the same year, nearly 270,000 children entered care, representing a slight decrease since 2016.
  • The number of children under the age of 1 entering foster care is increasing and has become the highest percentage, by age group, of children entering foster care; from 39,697 in 2011 to 50,076 in 2017.
  • The number of children experiencing neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is on the rise; from 3.4 per 1000 hospital births in 2009 to 8.0 per 1000 hospital births in 2014.
  • From 1999-2014, the incidence of parental alcohol or other drug use as a reason for removal more than doubled, from 15.8-31.8 percent.


Below are NCSL and national resources, examples of state initiatives, national organizations, and news stories that can provide more information about the current opioid crisis. Included are 50-state data and policy compilations, statewide initiatives and local programs, as well as national organizations that are working in this field.


State Initiatives

National Organizations


While much of the information is anecdotal, as the news articles below will show, states are increasingly making the link between the opioid epidemic and rising foster care caseloads.

About This NCSL Project

The Denver-based child welfare project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or

NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child welfare issues before Congress and the Administration. Staff in D.C. can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or