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News 13 Investigates: More WNC kids in foster care

A file photo of downtown Asheville. Buncombe, Henderson, and Madison counties are all seeing more children in foster care. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

As the opioid crisis tightens its grip on parents throughout the mountains, the children left behind are now a growing concern.

More kids are entering foster care, and more grandparents are raising the next generation.

Right now, nearly 400 children in Buncombe County are not living with their parents, but instead are in foster care. The biggest reason for this is substance abuse.

GRANDPARENTS RAISING GRANDCHILDREN

News 13 interviewed a local grandmother who didn't wish to be identified.

"If I hadn't gotten my grandkid out of the home, he may be dead today. I really don't know," she said.

Her heartbreaking story is like many others in our area. She's watching her daughter fall into a terrible drug addiction and can't seem to get her the help she needs.

She grew increasingly concerned about her young grandson, realized he was being exposed to drugs, and eventually got custody of the child.

Her grandson tested positive for high amounts of heroin when he was just 1.

She doesn't defend her own daughter or her daughter's addiction, but fears for her future.

She was emotional as she described her biggest concern, "I'm going to bury my daughter. Yep, I'll have to explain to him how his mommy died of a drug overdose."

Every day she's also worried about the many grandchildren like hers, suffering from this crisis.

"There is no one fighting for these children or thinking about the implications, five or 10 years down the road," she said.

INCREASE IN LOCAL CHILDREN ENTERING FOSTER CARE

News 13 requested the foster care data from several local counties.

In Henderson, the number of kids in foster care has jumped 43 percent over the last five years.

Henderson County said the good news is that over the last few months, they have seen a decrease. A spokesperson said they are also working very hard to find a permanent home for a child faster. They say of the 111 children currently in foster care, 37 are living with relatives.

Madison County said they've seen a 25 percent increase over the same time period. A spokesperson told News 13 last month there were 83 kids in custody. Sixty-three were removed from their home because of parental substance abuse. Twenty-six were then placed with relatives and 11 were living with grandparents.

It's a similar situation in Buncombe County.

"We currently have the most kids in custody that we've had in over a decade, so it's a substancial jump," Program Administrator Rebecca Smith said.

They saw a 20 percent increase in the last 3 years.

"We are seeing a high number of parents dying from the opioid epidemic, more than I've ever seen in my career," Smith said.

It's forced them to add three social workers and two supervisors to the foster care unit. Smith explained that they've moved the positions from other departments so that the budget wasn't impacted.

As for the kids, Smith said they always try to place them with relatives first.

"I don't know where we would be without the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins who step up and are there for their family members," she said.

Smith said they have one year to help a parent get clean and get their child back, which can be difficult given the resources in our community.

"Everyone who needs treatment can't be provided treatment. The numbers are too great," District Attorney Todd Williams said. "We're talking about an epidemic."

It's an issue that's overwhelming the Buncombe County courthouse, as well.

Williams said they're focusing on cutting off the suppliers, not locking up the addicts.

"We're not going to arrest our way out of this problem. There are too many folks subject to this addiction. The drugs are too powerful," Williams said.

But, the grandmother News 13 spoke with believes jail time could help her daughter change, leaving her with little hope.

"It's maddening. It's very frustrating, and if you're not held accountable, it's going to continue," she said.

BECOMING A FOSTER PARENT

Every county News 13 reached out to said they are in desperate need of foster parents.

In fact, Madison County said they only have five licensed foster care homes for about 83 kids. They are holding a training session to become a licensed foster care parent on February 6, 2018. If you're interested, call 828-649-9498.

Buncombe County also has upcoming events to learn more about becoming a foster parent. You can call 828-250-5868 or email familiesforkids@buncombecounty.org to learn more.









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