Dec. 21, 2017
Best of the States
Reporters spotlight burgeoning crisis: More kids entering foster care due to the opioid epidemic
They are the littlest victims of the opioid crisis: Tens of thousands of children forced into foster care because of a parent’s drug use. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data from 2016 showing new foster care cases involving parents using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping.
Less than two weeks after that data was released, the AP transmitted a package of stories focused on two of the states with the biggest one-year increases: Indiana and Georgia.
The project came about thanks to an analysis begun months earlier by Washington-based data journalist Meghan Hoyer. Hoyer worked with an analyst to access exclusive county-level data on foster care entries over the past 15 years, giving the AP a unique, comprehensive and localized look at the issues surrounding children entering the system.
That data allowed New York-based national writers Matt Sedensky to focus his reporting in Indiana, where parental drug use was increasingly cited as the reason for foster care removals. Sedensky convinced the chief juvenile court judge to grant him access to courtrooms and files normally shielded from public view. He also worked to get a caseworker to let him follow her as she visited families caring for children removed from their birth parents’ custody, and spent time with adoptive families, medical professionals and others affected.
A second story, by national writer David Crary, also based in New York, zoomed in on one mother who had lost her three daughters to foster care and her battle to overcome addiction and win them back. In interviews and email exchanges over several months, mother of three Kim Silvers told wrenching details of her experience – including an interview at her joyous graduation ceremony after completing the program.
For providing moving insight into the plight of the youngest victims of the opioid crisis and the struggle of some families to break free, Hoyer, Sedensky and Crary share this week’s Best of the States prize.