Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #8: State Family Drug Court Standards, Federal Funds for Substance Abuse

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who have completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a policy recommendation during their time in Washington, D.C. Today we highlight the recommendation of Jason Morin, 23, a law school student at Florida International University.

The Proposal

Morin would make the presence of family drug court standards a prerequisite for states receiving any Title IV-E funds. He would also have Congress incentivize states to utilize a recovery-focused approach in cases where abuse and neglect are attributed to substance abuse.

The Argument

Morin argues that while 31 percent of removals to foster care stem from the substance abuse problems of a parent, “preventative measures for families at risk of child welfare system involvement currently receive little support from states.”

At the same time, he says, reunification is the most frequent goal after a removal to care, but actually achieving reunification “necessitates working with multiple agencies that neither share data nor effectively collaborate.”

This, Morin argues, is where family drug courts can play a major role as an “integrated entity comprised of the court, child welfare agency, treatment providers and, ideally, community partners and faith-based organizations.

In His Own Words

“I personally witnessed addiction to tobacco, alcohol, cocaine and pain medications in my biological parents and other family members. These issues lead to the rapid dissolution of my biological family.

… Prevention services and/or [family drug courts] may have prevented my biological family’s destruction at the hands of addiction.”

The Chronicle‘s Take

As Morin notes in his recommendation, there is already legislation moving on Capitol Hill – the Family First Prevention Services Act – that would open up the Title IV-E foster care entitlement to include time-limited services for substance abuse, mental health and parenting.

Some have criticized the bill for time-limiting those services, and others oppose the legislation for its restrictions on federal funds for congregate care settings.

But there is near-universal acknowledgment at this point that the federal government does not invest enough of its child welfare resources in treating addiction struggles that, if successfully addressed, can reduce the need for foster care in some cases and make reunification more likely in other cases.

So on the call for federal investment in a recovery-focused approach, Morin is one voice in a choir. But in our opinion, his call for family drug court standards is a unique offering on this subject that needs to be discussed.

Let’s set aside family drug courts for a second and focus on his more general and excellent point. If Family First or any other legislation opens the federal tap on substance abuse in child welfare, the effectiveness of that investment would be jeopardized in a state or county that was ill-prepared to manage the new resources.

Now, the question is, are family drug courts the solution? Because making something a non-negotiable condition for all IV-E funds is not a move that should be made lightly.

2016 participants in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program.

The evidence seems to suggest that family drug courts are the best existing solution to integrating substance abuse services into child welfare cases. In a review of existing data and studies published by the Child Welfare League of America in 2011, researchers Arazais Oliveros and Joan Kaufman stated the following:

“To date, the Family Treatment Drug Court and newly developed home-based substance abuse treatment interventions appear the most effective at improving substance abuse treatment initiation and completion in child welfare populations.”

Morin’s proposal asks only that states establish standards for family drug courts, which a state or county agency would have to live up to. Technically, that doesn’t even require the presence of a family drug court in any one place, just standards for the ones that do have them.

But his argument makes us think that, if IV-E was ever expanded to include substance abuse services, Congress should go further than that and require their presence.

The language might need to be more general, like “family drug court or another coordinating body that includes the agency, court and treatment providers.” But you could make a strong argument that IV-E agencies could only draw down such funds if it could demonstrate that presence of a family drug court.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at