House Committee Approves Watson’s Task Force on Opioid Impact on Children
To help bring greater attention and more protections to the silent, forgotten victims of the state’s ongoing opioid epidemic, legislation to establish a task force to study the impact of the crisis on infants and young children today was unanimously reported out of the House Children and Youth Committee, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th), sponsor of the proposal and chairman of the committee.
“Infants and children are often the forgotten victims of this devastating epidemic and are driving the large majority of child welfare cases,” Watson said. “Whether they are born addicted to opiates and require intense care in their first few weeks of life or are living in a home where parents are struggling with addiction, these children need our attention. And that’s what this task force seeks to do.”
Watson said the cases of parental neglect have led to child deaths, pointing to a five-month-old in Cambria County who died of starvation after her parents died of overdoses. Other instances have involved children left for days without care or kids themselves calling 9-1-1 for help.
The child welfare system is overwhelmed, because cases of child abuse and neglect linked to parental substance abuse are increasing, as are the number of children being removed from their homes and placed in protective custody because of the parents’ drug addiction. Of the 1,400 infants in Pennsylvania who were removed from their homes and placed in protective custody in 2014, 817 of them (56 percent) had parental substance abuse as a contributing factor in their placement.
This task force’s objective will be to improve the safety, well-being and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children adversely affected by their parents’ substance abuse disorders. It will be directed to identify strategies and make short- and long-term recommendations to prioritize the prevention of substance-exposed infants; to improve outcomes for pregnant and parenting women striving to recover from addiction; and to promote the health, safety and permanency of substance-exposed infants and other young children at risk of child abuse and neglect, or placement in foster care due to parental alcohol and drug abuse.
The task force, appointed by the leaders of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, will include representation from various Commonwealth agencies, including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
The composition also will include non-governmental stakeholders and experts in the field, including behavioral health treatment providers, obstetric and pediatric physicians, early intervention providers and providers of home-visiting programs.
“If this legislation passes and the task force is created, we will still continue working on legislation that will help children impacted by this crisis and finding ways in which we can further improve the child welfare system,” Watson said. “As we learned with the an earlier task force on child protection, a comprehensive look at the issue will help bring greater clarity to the issue, and having the right people at the table – those who are in the trenches every day – will help to develop recommendations that can truly make a difference in these children’s lives.”
The task force proposal is modeled after the successful Task Force on Child Protection that resulted in a series of recommendations and more than two dozen new laws that update the state’s child abuse laws.
The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.
Representative Kathy Watson
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
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