ROGERSVILLE — With the nation’s substance abuse crisis now nearly two decades in progress, the fallout for Tennessee children living in homes with parental addicts continues to drive the need for a strong foster care support system to help youth achieve a healthy living environment, repair their lives and avoid lifelong cycles of drug abuse themselves.

The challenge: maintaining an adequate pipeline of foster-family homes to meet the demand for children entering the foster-care system.

In Tennessee, there are twice as many children in foster care as families willing to open their homes as foster families. According to experts, parents with Substance Abuse Disorder are three times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their children, resulting in additional strain to the already traumatized child living in a home with a substance abuser.

May is National Foster Care Month, and Tennessee-based Omni Visions – a multi-state placement agency that provides services for adults and children – urges community awareness of foster-care needs, along with support for children to find safe, caring environments for either temporary or permanent home placement.

Current data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control reveal that 10 counties in the nation’s Top 50 for risk of HIV and/or hepatitis C outbreaks resulting from the opioid epidemic are based in Tennessee.

Hancock County ranks #1 in the state among that group of 10, and #13 nationally.

Other counties in NE Tennessee include:

Grainger County (#66 nationally);

Hawkins County (#71 nationally);

Greene County (#79 nationally);

Claiborne County (#80 nationally);

Hamblen County (#138 nationally)

Sullivan County (#151 nationally)

“As goes the opioid crisis in Tennessee county-by-county, so go many of the trend lines for foster-home demand, due to the volume of children removed from unsafe home environments with parents who are using and/or dealing in drugs or who are already incarcerated for drug offenses,” said Omni Visions President & CEO Jane Wintz.

“The Catch-22 for Tennessee children from rural counties is that these areas have smaller populations, which means fewer adults in the local area who can become qualified to serve as foster parents for children in their local county,” Wintz said.

“We need more qualified adults in these rural areas to consider joining the foster family network and experience first-hand the fulfillment of making a lifelong impact on a young life in discovering a better path forward, despite the obstacles,” Wintz said.

According to Wintz, the first step for prospective foster parents is to tap into a strong support system that will help guide, educate and assist them each step of the way, with 24/7/365 personal contact, training, resources and encouragement.

You don’t need a lot of money or a lot of room to become a foster parent. Key qualifications for adults to become a foster parent include:

• Be 25+ years of age, or if a two-parent home, at least one applicant must be 25+;

• Can be married, single, or divorced;

• May or may not have children;

• Can own or rent your home/apartment;

• Must be a citizen of the United States;

• Home must have a bedroom to accommodate a foster child/children;

• All applicants in the home must be able to attend agency training;

• Have valid state driver’s license, with reliable transportation;

• Be financially stable, employed, or retired;

• Have a physical completed by your primary care physician;

• Pass all background checks along with a drug screen.

During this year’s National Foster Care Month, Omni Visions encourages qualified Tennessee adults to consider becoming a foster parent. Learn more about how you or a friend can become a foster parent at powertothefamily.com.