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Report Links Drug Dependency to Child-Welfare Problems

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WASHINGTON--Drug and alcohol dependency are contributing to increases in domestic violence, child abuse, and the placement of children in foster care, a report released last week concludes.

Much of the problem, the North American Commission on Chemical Dependency and Child Welfare argues, can be attributed to the Bush Administration's drug policies.

The 60-member commission, convened by the Child Welfare League of America, called on the federal government to fund drug-education and -prevention programs at the same levels as it does its law-enforcement and interdiction programs.

Currently, the panel said at a news conference here, $9 billion of the $12.7 billion the federal government budgets for its drug programs is spent on enforcement and interdiction.

"We are spending billions and billion of dollars on the wrong things,'' said David Liederman, the executive director of the C.W.L.A.

The commission conducted a survey of public child-welfare agencies in 10 states and 129 nonprofit agencies in North America in an effort to document the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on the child-welfare system.

Survey's Findings

Among the survey's findings:

  • The number of children entering the child-welfare system has increased by more than 60 percent over the past five years.
  • Reports of child abuse increased 31 percent between 1988 and 1990.
  • Children under age 5 are the fastest-growing population in the
    foster-care system.
  • 91 percent of respondents providing group day-care services reported an increase in children with developmental or behavioral problems attributed to prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs.

Over all, the commission found, 37 percent of the 305,716 children served by state agencies and 57 percent of the 111,927 children served by nonprofit agencies came from families with alcohol- or drug related problems.

To combat the problems caused by alcohol and drug dependency, the commission recommends, among other proposals, that:

  • The federal government improve access to health care for families and children with drug or alcohol problems, and expand Medicaid eligibility to all children in out-of-home care.
  • Parents who test positive for drug use not automatically be referred to the criminal-justice system; when appropriate, such parents should be directed to other services.
  • Government departments that work with families with drug and alcohol problems--including education, health, welfare, and juvenile-justice agencies--work to enhance their collaborative efforts.

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