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Need for foster parents in Utah grows as more children than ever need care

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah is in need of foster families more than ever before, according to the state’s Division of Child and Family Services.

Tanya Albornoz, The division's Foster Care Program administrator, told Fox 13 News on Friday they are over capacity with children needing to be placed in foster care.

Typically they can place 2,400 children. Currently, they have 2,900. That means 500 children need to be placed, and in the meantime are living in shelters.

“This is a pretty alarming trend,” Albornoz. “In my 17 years of working for the Department of Human Services, I've never seen the amount of kids that are coming into care that are coming now."

Albornoz said in the last 12 months, 200 children have come into the foster care system. Typically they only see about 100 children a year in need of care.

“We've never seen this many kids coming in before," Albornoz said. “We've seen about a 5 percent increase in substance abuse as a contributing factor. And we, anecdotally, are hearing from the front lines that it’s due to the use of opioids and the inability of the parents to take care of those kids.”

Utah is the seventh highest state in the nation in terms of opioid addiction. Nationally, 2.5 million American are addicted to opioids.

Albornoz explained the majority of the foster children come from opioid or heroin addicted parents.

“They don't necessarily have the ability to keep the kids in the home," Albornoz said. "We need to help them get to a place where it's safe for the kids for them to be able to take care of the kids.”

Earlier this week, other groups spoke about the growing trend toward grandparent-led households in response to the opioid epidemic. 

Albornoz said the state currently has about 1,300 foster families, but they need more. The biggest challenge is to find foster parents willing to take multiple siblings into their home. The children who are coming for care now are between the ages infancy and five years old.

“If there was ever time they wanted to become foster parents or considered to become foster parents, that now is the time," Albornoz said. “The State of Utah needs them. These children need them. That, if they would open their hearts and their home to children in need of foster care, that would be what people could do.”

If you have questions or are interested in becoming a foster parent, click here.