Friday, April 13, 2007

The link between foster care and chemical dependency

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services;
- 11 percent of American youth live with a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol
- Substance abuse is a factor in 7 out of 10 cases of child maltreatment
- Individuals are often reluctant to enter treatment programs

Sadly, women with children are most apt to resist entering treatment programs for chemical dependency.

- Because they are embarrassed about needing help
- Because they don’t have childcare
- And, most of all, because they are afraid of losing custody of their children

So, what can be done to help?

Here are some promising initiatives:

1.) At some agencies, substance abuse facilities and child welfare agencies work together (sometimes even residing in the same building) in order to sustain families affects by substance-abusing parents.

2.) Some family drug courts are choosing to mandate substance abuse treatment, in lieu of punishment for parents who use drugs. One example is:

3.) Mother-child residential drug treatment programs keep the family together, and help mothers both overcome their addiction and learn better parenting skills. For more information, please visit:

In some cases, the parent cannot or will not end their addiction to drugs or alcohol. For this reason, many agencies do concurrent planning. I think this is the best strategy in terms of the future safety of the child.

In concurrent planning, professionals work to reunify the family – while simultaneously preparing a back-up permanency plan for the child, in case reunification efforts fail.

The bottom line is that children need and deserve permanent connections. If one or both parents has a serious addiction, that’s not the child’s fault. Substance-abusing parents often exhibit erratic and abusive behavior, putting a child’s emotional and physical well-being at risk.

Children living in that type of situation often have:
- A diminished ability to concentrate
- Nihilistic or fatalistic orientations toward the future
- Difficulty forming / maintaining emotional attachments
- A proclivity for risk-taking behavior, including the use of alcohol or other drugs later in life.

I have a very dear friend who is 15 years old, and has been in foster care since she was a baby. Her parents simply will not get their act together. If the agency in charge of my friend’s case had utilized concurrent planning when they first took her from her parent’s household, my friend would not still be languishing in foster care today.

Fenster, Judy. Substance Abuse and Child Welfare: Promising Practices and Ethical Dilemmas. National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning, Spring 2007.

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