The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held hearings Wednesday on a bill to combat the opioid crisis. Jennifer Donahue from the Delaware Office of Child Advocate testified.
The Opioid Crisis Response Act seeks to create more programs and federal grant opportunities for those battling the opioid epidemic.
Donahue is the Child Abuse Investigation Coordinator at the Delaware Office of Child Advocate. Her office reports cases of infants with prenatal substance exposure jumping from 294 in 2015 to 450 in 2017.
She says she hopes this bill would allow the state to increase staff at family services to deal with an overwhelming caseload.
“Most of the investigation workers are double, some are even triple over their caseload limit, and that is not a very good scenario when it comes to looking at safety of children. Our DFS workers are overworked,” said Donahue.
Donahue says more funding would allow Delaware to further extend Plans of Safe Care to mothers as well as infants in the case of prenatal substance exposure. This could include long term medicated treatment with buprenorphine or methadone.
Part of Donahue’s testimony spotlighted a need for grants that would allow states to expand trauma-informed mental health programs in schools. She also spoke to a need to improve data collection to monitor children born with prenatal substance exposure.
“This data is very important just to follow these children long term so that if there are any developmental delays that are identified at Child Development Watch that they can be addressed by the time that child gets to Kindergarten or even earlier, hopefully,” said Donahue.
The bill is scheduled to go before the Senate later this month.