Examining How California Responds to Parental Substance Use Disorder

A new research brief from the California Child Welfare Co-investment Partnership looks at the impact of substance abuse on families entering California’s child welfare system.

As The Chronicle of Social Change reported in its series on how a spike in opioid and meth use has impacted families in the child welfare system, parental substance use has been linked to the recent rise in the number of children entering the foster care system nationwide.

In California, about 12 percent of children entered foster care as a result of parental substance use in 2015, a number that is well below the national average. According to Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data, 34.4 percent of children entered care as a result of a documented case of substance abuse.

But there are some reasons for the variation in federal and state numbers around parental substance use as a factor in removals. For one, states have different ways in their data systems to record substance abuse, a factor in the low number of referrals for substance abuse in removals in the state. California law also makes clear that parental substance abuse on its own (without a record of abuse or neglect) is not enough to remove a child from her family and place her into the foster care system.

But in A Matter of Substance, the California Child Welfare Co-investment Partnership suggests that some data suggests that parental substance use disorder is a growing issue for the state’s child welfare system. For example, California has seen a 68 percent increase in newborns dealing with neonatal abstinence syndrome, medical issues that occur in newborns exposed to addictive drugs in utero.

The brief also addresses the issue of bias in screening and reporting at hospitals — substance use was detected among mothers on Medi-Cal at nearly four times the rate of other mothers.

The brief identifies several promising strategies such as treatment plans, recovery plans, recovery coaches and community-based treatment. Effective programs are highlighted, including the Alameda County Family Drug Court, sobriety treatment and recovery teams, the parent-child assistance program and residential treatment.

Finally, the California Child Welfare Co-investment Partnership looks at seven recurring obstacles that continue to challenge child welfare practitioners: access to services, support for parents to complete treatment, aftercare service for parents, collaboration difficulty across sectors, the misalignment between child welfare mandates and recovery timetables, treatment and the burden of stigma.

To read the brief, click here.

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 319 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.