MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Young children in Vermont have been placed in protective state custody at soaring rates largely because of the opiate epidemic, an annual report released Wednesday shows.
Building Bright Futures, a public-private partnership, produced the report on the status of young children and families that included placements with the Vermont Department of Children and Families.
It shows that from 2012 to 2014, the number of children under age 9 placed in protective custody, such as foster care, rose 41 percent; among children under age 3, the number jumped 62 percent, according to Building Bright Futures executive director Sarah Squirrell.
“It’s clearly the opiate epidemic is driving this,” Squirrell said.
She said the drug crisis affects families whether a parent is in the throes of addiction or seeking treatment and trying to figure out what to do with the children.
The trend also continued with the number of young children in state custody increasing from 728 in the first quarter of 2015 to 822 in the second quarter of 2016, where it remained at the end of last year, according to the department.
The state is seeing a drop in the number of those in the youngest age group and a rise in the number of some of the older children aged 6-11, as some younger children stay longer in custody.
“What we’re seeing is actually a decrease in the 0 to 5 population but there’s been an increase in the 6 to 11,” said Karen Shea, the department’s interim deputy commissioner of family services. “When we’ve had such an increase in the number of children (placed) into custody, it’s taking longer for their cases to be processed through the court system.”
The state also is facing a child care challenge for children under age 6 since the available parents for 70 percent of those children are working, the report found. Meanwhile, regulated care programs are available to less than half of infants and toddlers likely to need child care, the report said.
But Squirrell said Vermont also has some bright spots. The state tied with Massachusetts for having the lowest percentage of uninsured children in the country and the percent of Vermont families with children under age 5 who live in poverty dropped from 19 percent in 2009 to 9.6 percent in 2015.
Vermont also is seeing an increase in children accessing publicly funded pre-kindergarten programs, she said.
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