On Thursday, July 14th, 2022 the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW) hosted a virtual panel discussion strategies to improve systems and services for families in the child welfare system who are affected by parental substance use disorders. The discussion focused on the importance of collaboration among social service, health, and court systems to achieve child safety, permanency, and parent recovery for these families. Representatives from behavioral health and child welfare agencies in Florida and Oklahoma shared lessons and successes from projects at the state and local levels.

In Florida, the Family Connections Through Peer Recovery (Family-CPR) Project was a key initiative in Broward County that helped improve child welfare outcomes for families at risk of losing their children due to a parents’ substance abuse. In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services has developed and implemented multiple collaborative initiatives focused on improving outcomes for pregnant and parenting mothers affected by substance abuse disorder.

In both states, parents were more likely to complete substance abuse treatment and be reunited with their children when they had peer support services. Both jurisdictions also noted positive outcomes when professionals from each involved system collaborated on a plan for each family’s care journey. if they accessed peer support services. Another lesson shared by the state teams was that when parents received regular support from a trained peer in recovery, they were more likely to remain engaged with their treatment plan.

While they may face many challenges, substance use disorders are one of several co-occurring conditions that affect most families in the child welfare system, particularly when child removal is warranted. Thus, collaborative practice is necessary to achieve the best outcomes for children and parents alike.

By Alex Lord-Wilkinson, Policy Intern, Pizzigati Fellow