SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- In Santa Barbara County, 80 percent of children in the foster care system are there because of the drug epidemic, including opioids.
“When parents become addicted, the kids are the ones that are paying the price," said Kim Colby Davis, executive director at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Santa Barbara County. “More and more frequently we're seeing heroine, and we're seeing the opioid addictions.”
CASA volunteers help the courts decide on an outcome for kids in the foster care system.
“Basically the court gives our volunteers the rights and the responsibilities to go and gather information about what's happening in that child's life.”
Advocates talk to foster parents, caregivers, biological parents, teachers, doctors, and anyone who may involved in a kid's life before reporting back to the courts.
Davis says recently, the agency's caseload has been piling up.
“In fact, just since July, we've seen the number of children who have come into care more than doubled, nearly tripled.”
CASA serves from newborns, to young adults up until their 21st birthday.
“Children go unfed and are not properly clothed, they don't get bathed, or showered or cleaned, or sent to school," said Davis.
CASA is currently serving nearly 400 children in Santa Barbara County, while there's an additional 137 on a waitlist. Davis says half of them are babies.
“Often times it is a hospital that's reporting that a baby is born addicted," the executive director said.
The county's Behavioral Wellness Department says roughly 50 percent of people who become alcohol or drug addicted come from alcoholic or drug addicted families. Experts say this can be because of exposure, or because the person is born addicted.
“Methamphetamine [addiction] is on the rise, especially in North County," said John Doyle of Behavioral Wellness.
Doyle adds that the death rate for accidental opioid overdoses is higher in Santa Barbara County than in other parts of the state.
“We have more resources now than we've had in the past," he said. "We have medicated assisted treatment programs, including treatment for opioid and alcohol-use disorders. We also offer behavioral treatments, [including] individual or group counseling, psychotherapy, family therapy, or drug testing.”
CASA is swearing in seven new volunteers at the Santa Maria courthouse on Thursday. The agency is in dire need of more advocates --its goal is to assign somebody to every case on its waiting list.
CASA is hosting a training in January. If you'd like to volunteer, visit the organization's website.
CASA of San Luis Obispo County reports drug addiction is landing kids in their care, too. However, the agency said it's not experiencing the same case spike as Santa Barbara County.