AUGUSTA, Maine — A spike in the number of children entering state custody because their parents are abusing bath salts has forced the state’s Office of Child and Family Services to add almost $1 million to its budget this year to accommodate 200 additional children living in foster care and in the homes of relatives.
The Department of Health and Human Services — which includes the child and family services office — expects to request an additional $4.2 million for that purpose in upcoming budget packages to be voted on by state lawmakers to cover those expenses through June 30, 2015.
The state’s Office of Child and Family Services has seen a net increase of 200 children in state custody since last November, and officials can trace the bulk of the net increase to situations in which parents have been abusing bath salts, Therese Cahill-Low, director of the Office of Child and Family Services, said Monday.
As a result, the state has transferred $1 million to the office this year from unspent funds so it can afford room and board payments to foster parents and relatives taking in children who have entered state custody, according to Cahill-Low and DHHS spokesman John Martins.
“We kind of got blindsided by bath salts back in November, December,” she said. “As a result of really a lot of bath salts usage in certain pockets of the state, we’ve had an increase in the number of kids in care by 200.”
At the end of last November, the state had 1,450 children in its custody. At the end of September, according to Cahill-Low, that number had risen to 1,657 children who were either living in foster care or with relatives after being removed from the care of their parents.
“We can pinpoint it specifically to substance abuse, particularly around bath salts,” she said.
Bath salts-related situations are particularly common in the Bangor and Rockland areas, Cahill-Low said.
It’s challenging for foster parents to start caring for children whose parents have engaged in any substance abuse, but bath salts present a unique challenge, she said.
“With other substances, there may be a little more predictability. Bath salts, there’s no standard,” she said. “Children are probably more scared and probably have been put in more precarious situations just because the parents don’t have any wherewithal when they’re on bath salts.”
Bath salts emerged on the streets of Bangor in early 2011 and, within months, bath salts abuse had spread throughout the state.
The drug, which is addictive, can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed. It has caused hallucinations, convulsions, psychotic episodes and thoughts of suicide in users.
Maine lawmakers voted to outlaw the drug in September 2011. President Barack Obama signed a federal ban on the primary chemical components of bath salts into law in July of this year.