Required Drug Testing for Foster Parents

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Required Drug Testing for Foster Parents

A few weeks ago, I happened to see a news interview with the grandmother of a 10-month-old girl who perished after she was left in the car by her foster father.  The foster dad smoked weed and watched ‘Game of Thrones’ while the little girl was baked alive in the car.  It was a child crying on the show that reminded the foster dad that he had left the baby in his car.  During the grandmother’s interview, she expressed her shock, outrage, and grief over the situation. As awful and senseless as this situation is, something the grandmother said stuck out more than anything else about the story: she thought that foster parents received drug testing. 

It feels like the summer of 2014 has seen an epidemic of children dying as a result of accidentally being left in hot vehicles. When I first saw this story reported I was a little annoyed by the the headlines that read ’10-month-old dies after being left in car by Foster Parent’ (or something to that effect) because I didn’t see why it mattered that it was a foster parent that did this. It can happen to pretty much anybody. My annoyance quickly morphed into outrage when the fact that illegal drugs were involved surfaced. Then the grandmother made this statement: she thought that foster parents received drug testing. 

I’ve been a licensed foster parent since 2011. I’ve fostered kids in two different states. I’ve never had to submit to a drug test. I’ve had to get a physical. I’ve had to be screened for tuberculosis. My finger prints have been sent to the FBI. I’ve had to do a mound of paperwork asking about my family’s lifestyle and my personal background. I’ve never had a drug test. My outlets were checked for safety covers. I had to draw a floor plan of my house to be posted where the children could see. They checked my dogs’ vaccination records. I was never drug tested. My home had to comply with dozens of safety standards. I was scrutinized in many other ways. No drug test. Ever. 

I never thought it odd that foster parents weren’t drug tested. We answer questions about substance use/abuse and any related criminal charges we may have and a background check is run. That’s it. I didn’t think anything was wrong or missing from our approval process, but then I hear this woman who just lost her grandchild saying that she thought foster parents received drug testing. She said it in the same way that I’ve heard many people state myths about the foster care system as fact.

After doing a little research, I’ve determined that drug testing isn’t required at all in the 50 U.S. States, District of Columbia, or any U.S. Territory (this determination was made by reading literature put out by the U.S. government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway, I actually hope I’m wrong).

There are a lot of reasons for this, I’m sure. The different agencies that comprise our local, state, and federal child welfare system are absolutely bogged down. Agencies are short staffed. Workers have large case loads. There’s a ton of paperwork. Entire days are monopolized by court visits. Any time a new policy is made, the agencies have to scramble to comply.

Adding a requirement for all foster parents to submit to random drug testing is great in theory, but I imagine it would be a difficult thing to actually do and to make sure that everyone is in compliance. I’m just a foster parent and thinking about how it would all work makes my head swim.

However…

Foster Care is supposed to be a safe haven for children. Many of the children in Foster Care come from dysfunctional homes where substance use/abuse is a large factor in that dysfunction. What sense does it make to take a child out of a home because his or her caregivers use drugs and place them in a home where the foster parents are using drugs? Should it really be acceptable to care for someone else’s children (or your own) while you’re intoxicated?

We could certainly debate about the use of alcohol (or marijuana where it’s legal) by foster parents in the home. I think that a discussion about marijuana should happen in the states where its use has been legalized. But what about other drugs like cocaine? What about prescription drug abuse?

Survey questions aren’t enough. People can lie. Background checks aren’t enough. Not everyone gets caught and charged for using drugs. Foster parents should submit to mandatory, random drug testing.  

I’m not saying we treat foster parents like criminals. I’m not saying that we add one more ineffective hoop for foster families to jump through. I’m not for adding another layer of policies to a system that is already overloaded.

I’m saying that we need to do whatever we can to keep children safe while they’re in foster care because they deserve to actually be safe while they’re in foster care.

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