ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. — The number of young children in Vermont who have been taken into state custody has spiked by more than 50 percent.

For the first time this summer, newborns, toddlers and preschoolers have surpassed 12-to-17-year-olds as the largest group in state care.

Cindy Walcott, deputy commissioner for the family services division at the Department for Children and Families, said the department started taking custody of more children around March 2014, just a month after a toddler died of head injuries.

An internal survey found that opiates were a factor in 80 percent of cases where children under 3 were removed from their homes.

The agency has started sending substance abuse experts to assist caseworkers when they visit homes.