Call for Abstracts: A Special Issue of Child Welfare on Opportunities for Child Welfare to Respond to Prenatal Alcohol and Other Substance Exposures

Updated Abstract Submission Deadline: May 6, 2022

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), in partnership with James Bell Associates and with the support of the Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are pleased to announce a call for abstracts for a special issue of Child Welfare journal. This issue will examine the role and opportunities for child welfare agencies to respond to and care for children and their caregivers impacted by prenatal alcohol and other drug exposures. Policies and practices relevant to state, local/county, and Tribal child welfare agencies, their collaborating partner organizations, and the children and families they serve will be discussed.

Research has demonstrated that prenatal substance exposure, especially to alcohol, can negatively impact child welfare outcomes. Children affected by prenatal substance use may be more likely to be removed from home and experience placement instability while in temporary care. Their well-being may suffer if appropriate service referrals are not made when prenatal exposure and associated conditions are unrecognized. This can be a particular issue for exposure-related impairments that emerge after infancy, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Birth parents, relative care providers, and foster parents may need training and support to address difficult child behaviors and other needs—but there are barriers that can reduce access to services. Punitive state policies, such as defining prenatal exposure as a criminal act, may deter families from disclosing information and receiving appropriate referrals. In many locations, families of color (including those who are Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaskan Native) may also experience higher rates of removals but may not have equal access to supportive services. Child welfare agencies have the opportunity to preserve families and improve child safety and well-being by providing training to staff and using supportive approaches and evidence-informed services in their work with families.

While we already have received some very good abstracts, we also have identified the following gaps that we are particularly interested in filling:

  • Adaptations of evidence-based trauma treatments for children and youth who experience fetal alcohol exposure/fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FAE/FASD) and also have experienced trauma 
  • Effective strategies for those caring for children and youth who experience FAE/FASD
  • Interventions and/or adaptations of evidence-based treatments for children and youth who have FAE/FASD and their families

We also are interested in manuscripts that focus on one or more of the following areas, especially those addressing prenatal alcohol exposure:

1. Child welfare practices and processes to identify children, including those who are not recognized as prenatally exposed to substances at birth but may show effects that emerge later in childhood (e.g., FASDs).
2. Documentation in child welfare systems, including how administrative and case data are used by agencies to understand prevalence, needs, and racial and socioeconomic inequities and disparities in response to children with prenatal substance exposure.
3. Methods to train and build awareness of prenatal exposures to alcohol among child welfare staff and those preparing to enter the workforce.
4. Service referral processes used in child welfare systems to care for children, including diagnostic services, medical care, and other necessary services to address both short-term and long-term impacts of FASDs.
5. Addressing the needs of parents and caregivers, such as services oriented toward intergenerational experiences of FASDs and associated conditions, culturally relevant interventions, and training to understand and respond effectively to children.
6. Collaborations between child welfare agencies, courts, and medical, educational, and other providers, including processes to exchange information, and efforts to improve care of children and families through joint funding and service delivery.
7. Issues and needs concerning responding to prenatal substance exposures and supporting children and families among Tribal child welfare and allied service systems.
8. Practices to address fears related to disclosure when working with persons who are pregnant and have substance use issues, including practices informed by the perspectives of allied health professionals and experiences of birth parents and families.
9. States’ application of CAPTA/CARA, including issues related to providing preventative services and avoiding punitive responses.
10. Child welfare system efforts to move toward equitable response to prenatal substance exposure for families of color. We also are interested in research or projects related to any of these topics that have included people with lived experience as part of their design and implementation.

The goal of this special issue of Child Welfare, due out in the fall of 2022, is to advance our understanding by featuring policy-based, theoretical, and empirical papers to understand opportunities and gaps of the child welfare system’s current response to children and their families who have been impacted by prenatal exposures to alcohol and other substances. Please submit your abstract (approx. 750 words) to Rachel Adams, Child Welfare managing editor, at by May 6, 2022.