How States Are Meeting the Needs of Children and Families Affected by the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is having a devastating impact on children and families and placing a significant strain on states as they work to develop effective programs and find new funding to respond to this crisis.

To address the crisis and promote healthy child development, states are implementing innovative whole-family approaches to prevention and treatment (see below). On the federal level, new funding is available and recently the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation announced its Integrated Care for Kids model, which states can use to improve care and outcomes while reducing costs through early identification, integrated care coordination, and case management for physical and behavioral health care and non-clinical local services.

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Children can experience many negative consequences as a result of their parents’ opioid use disorder (OUD). Prenatal opioid exposure can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome in infants, which is usually treated by costly hospitalizations and may increase the risk of developmental disabilities. Children affected by parental substance misuse are at increased risk of adverse childhood experiences and trauma, which can have significant short- and long-term physical, mental, and behavioral consequences.

A new National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) issue brief, written in partnership with the Alliance for Early Success, identifies the following promising state strategies developed by Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Virginia to support children and families:

  • Facilitate access to and coverage of services by improving identification of at-risk infants and children, enabling rapid access to treatment, expanding coverage of services, and enhancing provider capacity. For example, New Hampshire’s Project First Step embeds licensed alcohol and drug counselors (LADCs) within its Division of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) district offices. The LADCs train child welfare and juvenile justice staff about substance misuse — including screening and facilitating access to treatment — to enable DCYF staff to better meet the needs of children and families affected by OUD.
  • Implement family-focused care delivery models, such as providing family-centered treatment approaches for the family unit, offering care at home and in the community, coordinating care, and providing trauma-informed care. Virginia’s Medallion 4.0 Medicaid managed care program contract requires Medicaid managed care organizations to provide specialized care coordinators for substance-exposed newborns and align a mother’s and infant’s care plan. Additionally, Virginia’s Medicaid 4.0  contracts promote delivery of trauma-informed care, particularly for children impacted by the foster care system.
  • Align and maximize resources across systems by sharing data and leveraging diverse funding sources. Kentucky’s Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Team (START) program is a family-centered, service delivery model within the state’s child welfare system that pairs families affected by substance use disorder (SUD) with a child protective services (CPS) worker and a family mentor who has lived experience with SUD. The CPS workers and family mentors coordinate care, offer rapid access to treatment, and provide comprehensive wrap-around services. The program weaves together funding from a Title IV-E waiver demonstration, Medicaid, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, and state general funds. The state has also established a data-sharing agreement to advance the program between its Department for Community Based Services and its Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental, and Intellectual Disabilities.

An additional report and webinar exploring state strategies to support pregnant and parenting women affected by substance use disorders, including opioid use disorder, will be published in the weeks ahead.