Blending Perspectives and Building Common Ground. Timely Substance Abuse Services Are Key to Achieving Permanency for Children


Child welfare agencies throughout the U.S. have long recognized that every child needs a safe and permanent home, whether that home is with a birth parent, a relative, or an adoptive parent.  The goal that permanency decisions be made promptly, while giving parents the opportunity and support to make the changes in their lives necessary to address safety concerns, has not been adequately realized.  The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) emphasizes timely decision making, requiring that permanency decisions be made on a 12-month time line, and requiring that agencies move to terminate parental rights once a child has been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months, unless there is a compelling reason not to initiate termination.  These new time lines make it essential that agencies ensure that services for parents, including appropriate substance abuse treatment, be provided promptly.

For substance abuse treatment to be successful, the types, settings, and duration of treatment must be tailored to the individual client based on the severity of the addiction and other disorders that may exist.  Even in the best situations, substance abuse treatment takes time and relapses are part of the recovery process, as with other diseases, particularly in the early stages of treatment.  The new time lines provide sufficient opportunity for parents to take important steps into the recovery process, but only if treatment is available quickly.  However, recovery is likely to be successful in the long term only if appropriate, quality substance abuse treatment services are provided promptly, and include aggressive outreach, retention, and monitoring as integral service components.