There are many goals of the child welfare system
There are many goals of the child welfare system, however, the three main focus areas are, child safety, permanency in placement, and child well-being. One of the biggest problems associated with the child welfare system is parental substance abuse. According to Ryan, Victor, Moore, Mowbray, & Perron (2016), this is a very common problem in the child welfare system as 43% of parents reported that they abused drugs or alcohol in the home. This may be an inaccurate percentage because not all parents that struggle with substance abuse are willing to admit it. A huge concern with parents abusing drugs in the home is the disruption of the family stability and the negative effects it can have on the well-being of any children living in the home (Ryan et al., 2016). The child’s lack of safety in the home is also considered when addressing concerns regarding parental substance abuse. If a child is prenatally exposed to drugs, they will have a detrimental impact on their life. Children show increased behavioral issues and lower cognitive abilities when they are placed in the foster care system without prenatal exposure to drugs. Children in the foster care system with prenatal exposure have significantly higher behavioral issues and much lower cognitive abilities. Those children statistically enter into the foster care system at a younger age and stay in the system longer. (McNichol ; Task, 2001)
In order to keep custody of a child, parents are required to receive substance abuse treatment once they have identified a problem. Unfortunately, many parents are unable to receive effective treatment based on their lack of resources. Only 1/3 of parents actually receive the treatment services they need to overcome their substance abuse problem (Ryan, Marsh, Testa, ; Louderman, 2006). Some factors to consider when evaluating accessibility to treatment are transportation, child care availability, and the time commitment. Research has found that many parents are unable to complete in-patient treatment programs because of the demands at home (Ryan et al., 2006).
The ability of parents to get sober may impede their chances of reunification with the child. Reunification occurs when children return to their primary caregiver after their foster care placement, which is the ultimate end goal for each foster care case. This is particularly difficult for parents that are addicted to substances because of relapses that are likely to occur during the treatment process. Only about 14% of child welfare cases end in reunification (Ryan, 2016). Of the families that are reunified, 23% are unable to obtain custody for more than 12 months, likely due to relapse (Ryan et al., 2006).
There is limited research on substance abusing parents in the child welfare system, however, a study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of recovery coaches in the treatment process. The Illinois study assigned recovery coaches to substance abusing parents in the experimental group and had a control group without recovery coaches. The purpose of a recovery coach is to make treatment services more accessible, lower rates of substance abuse, decrease the amount of time a parents spends in treatment, and reunify as many families as possible (Ryan et al., 2016). The recovery coaches are responsible for managing their client’s case, performing assessments, and planning treatment services that are needed. Recovery coaches assess any housing needs, parenting style, family support, and mental health status (Ryan et al., 2016).
The two main findings that came from the Illinois study support the use of recovery coaches in the treatment process. This study showed that substance abusing parents who received a recovery coach were more likely to quickly access treatment for their substance abuse issue. The second finding showed that parents with a recovery coach were more likely to experience reunification with their child (Ryan et al., 2016). This study is important for the field of family studies as it provides evidence for an effective intervention that is available to parents who abuse substances. A suggestion for future research that authors of this article stated was to study impulsivity. They mentioned that most cases of relapse occur as the result of impulsive actions, therefore, if service providers can control impulsivity in their clients, they could lower the chances of relapse (Ryan et al., 2016). When service providers utilize effective interventions, the rates of reunification will increase greatly.