Grandparents and others not part of the foster care system rearing children whose parents became addicted to substances should be considered as plans are made for Wilkes County’s opioid lawsuit settlement funds.
The N.C. attorney general’s office and state health department provided county governments with very specific guidelines for use of their portions of $750 million in settlement funds awarded to North Carolina through 2031. Wilkes is scheduled to receive nearly $18 million.
North Carolina’s settlement is appropriately structured to focus primarily on substance addiction treatment, recovery and prevention, but unfortunately it appears to do little for non-foster families with children not being raised by their biological parents due to addiction (including addiction-related deaths). Similarly, it doesn’t appear to address addiction-related financial losses of these families.
Of the two paths county governments in North Carolina could choose for use of opioid settlement funds, the one chosen by Wilkes County government has the greatest flexibility.
This option allows using settlement funds for “enhanced family supports and child care services for parents” who are addicted to opioids or other substances, but says nothing about substitute parents.
It allows funding enhanced support for children and family members suffering trauma as a result of addiction in the family, including treatment for adverse childhood events.” Treatment and recovery programs focused on young people and school-based contacts for parents seeking these services for children can be funded.
First Focus on Children, a bipartisan advocacy organization, recommended that states establish trust funds with portion of their settlement money to be used only for children impacted by substance addiction. It said that children and families impacted by addiction should be able to apply for direct assistance from these funds.
Hundreds (if not thousands) of children in Wilkes County are being raised by their grandparents, other adult family members or close family friends instead of their biological parents, largely due to opioid and other substance addiction.
First Focus on Children recommended that opioid settlement money be used to fund programs and services for children and their grandparent or other non-parental caregivers outside of the foster care system. Children raised by grandparents and other relatives outside of the foster care system often have little or no access to supports and services.
Obviously, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one due to addiction.
However, financial compensation could help families recover economically from spending tens of thousands of dollars on substance addiction treatment programs and other past and ongoing costs of addiction. Using opioid settlement funds to support and compensate them is entirely appropriate.
Greater flexibility should be allowed for use of settlement funds on families who were victims of the greed of opioid manufacturers.