On February 16th, 2023, the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW) hosted a webinar titled, “Mitigating Safety and Risk for Children Affected by Parental Substance Use Disorders Involved in the Child Welfare System.” The event aimed to spread awareness of the challenges and opportunities for helping parents with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). It also outlined strategies to help the child welfare system collaborate with other systems including substance abuse treatment and law enforcement.

Kimberley Bishop and Elizabeth Bullock of Children Family and Futures highlighted 2020 AFCARS data to explain the prevalence of prenatal substance abuse and its impact on the Child Welfare system. While there are differences in screening and definitions in each state that make data collection difficult, there is an overall upward trend in parental substance abuse being the cause of the removal of children. Out of the national average of 622,000 children removed, 245,000 were removed due to alcohol and drug use. Infants and children under one are the most affected by parental substance use, as they consist of 50.7% of the national average. Considering that children under one have high developmental needs and are more dependent, additional collaboration with peers, members of the community, and systems is necessary to prevent risk.

SUDs are treatable and preventable, but more work is needed to reduce stigma in the profession. In order to build trust and achieve best results, treatments must be culturally appropriate and highly individualized. Collaboration across systems improves outcomes for all as substance use and child maltreatment are often the result of multi-generational problems that require a coordinated effort. When systems aren’t aware of one another, it can damage trust and lower engagement.

The primary benefits of collaboration among systems are improved outcomes, efficiencies in service delivery, and effective planning. Some of the opportunities to increase collaboration include conducting family team meetings, incorporating peer contacts, and allowing families to have a voice in their case.

Resources shared during the webinar:

By Ava Cloghessy, Policy Intern