Blending Perspectives and Building Common Ground. Executive Summary


In a field where difficult decisions are made every day, child welfare workers face particular dilemmas when working with the extremely troubled families whose complex and multiple problems include both substance abuse and child maltreatment.  Central to their challenge is that addiction to alcohol and other drugs can be a chronic, relapsing disorder and recovery can be a long term process.  At the same time, children have an immediate need for safe and stable homes in which to grow up. 

Substance abuse (including both licit and illicit drugs) can impair a parent's judgment and priorities, rendering the parent unable to provide the consistent care, supervision and guidance children need.  For child welfare workers it is difficult to determine what level of functional improvement will enable a parent with substance abuse problems that have precipitated child maltreatment to retain or resume his or her parental role without jeopardizing a child's safety, particularly as relapse remains a significant possibility.  With the implementation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, P.L.  105-89) and renewed emphasis on achieving permanency for children in the child welfare system, finding effective ways to address concurrent substance abuse and child maltreatment problems in families takes on renewed importance. 

Section 405 of ASFA requires that the Secretary of Health and Human Services prepare a Report to Congress on substance abuse and child protection, describing:  (1) the extent and scope of the problem of substance abuse in the child welfare population; (2) the types of services provided to this population; (3) the effectiveness of these services; and (4) recommendations for legislative changes that might be needed to improve service coordination.  This document fulfills this legislative mandate.  Although intended for Congress, the report will also be of interest to other national, State, and local policy makers concerned with the interrelationships between substance abuse and child maltreatment.