New Resources for Families Involved in Substance Abuse

A just-released brief from the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC) states that nationwide 11% of children live in a home where at least one parent has a substance abuse disorder. However, two-thirds of children in foster care come from homes with a parent with a substance-abusing problem. Parental substance abuse is the second highest reason for termination of parental rights.

What is being done to help the most vulnerable families involved in substance abuse?

While there is a widespread belief that treatment slots are not available, the SPARC report indicates a careful analysis reveals that as little as 5% of all treatment slots could serve all parents in the child welfare system who need it.

Five practice innovations are being used in the child welfare system to address substance abuse:

  1. Screening of Parents: Four states (ME, OK, Fl, NJ) have adopted universal screening methods.
  2. Screening and Assessment of Children for the Effects of Substance Abuse: Federal law requires screening and assessment for children under age 3 and states are beginning to implement processes.
  3. Parent Support: Recovery coaches and peer advisers are forms of parental support that are helping parents to successfully complete treatment.
  4. Evidence-Based Programs: Celebrating Families, Strengthening Families, and PCIT are some of the recommended programs.
  5. Training the Workforce: Over 55,000 workers have signed up for online training offered by the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare

Family Drug Courts

Family drug courts is an approach to substance abuse deserving special mention. Phil Breitenbucher, Program Director of the Center for Children and Family Futures, says that there are 346 family drug courts serving over 19,000 families nationwide. Judges created drug courts in 1995 to address substance abuse within the child welfare system.

Compared to individual treatment systems alone, family drug courts’ positive outcomes include:

  • significantly higher rates of parental participation in substance abuse treatment,
  • longer stays in treatment,
  • higher rates of family reunification, and
  • fewer children in foster care.

A detailed manual for developing family drug courts is available here:
(PDF format, 2.4 Mb)

Substance Abuse and Trauma

Often accompanying substance abuse is trauma. One study showed a high correlation between substance abuse disorders in women and PTSD, most commonly resulting from a history of childhood physical and sexual abuse. Parents may exhibit:

  • inconsistent, irritable, explosive, or inflexible discipline;
  • low supervision and involvement;
  • little nurturance;
  • tolerance of youth substance abuse.

In turn, children are much more likely to be traumatized in a home with substance-abusing parents.

How can this cycle be changed?

Seeking Safety is a therapy designed for families experiencing both substance abuse and trauma. Details are available on their website:

There are new and exciting resources that can aid families involved in substance abuse. There is hope and help for these families!

For more information on substance abuse and trauma, view this PowerPoint presentation:
(PDF format, 1.2 Mb)

To view the SPARC brief, visit:

For additional information on drug courts, see The Judges’ Page newsletter, published by the National CASA Association and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges:

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