Effects of Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Treatment in Child Protective Services Cases

By Rittner, Barbara; Dozier, Cheryl Davenport | Social Work, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Effects of Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Treatment in Child Protective Services Cases


Rittner, Barbara, Dozier, Cheryl Davenport, Social Work


Courts often play active roles in the lives of families supervised by child protective services (CPS). Judges adjudicate dependency, mandate services, determine placements of children, and order continued supervision or termination of parental rights or services. This study examined the effects of court orders in preventing recurrence of substance abuse in the cases of 447 children in kinship care while under CPS supervision. In addition, the effects of court orders on duration of service and on numbers of placements were studied. Results suggested that court interventions had mixed outcomes. Levels of compliance with mandated substance abuse and mental health treatment did not appear to influence rates of reabuse or duration of service. Court orders appeared to affect both the number of caretakers and placements the children experienced. Children adjudicated dependent were more likely to have multiple caretakers than those under voluntary supervision.

Key words: child protective services; courts; dual diagnosis; kinship; substance abuse

Maltreating families exhibit problems that cannot be understood in terms of simple causations (Butler, Radia, & Magnatta, 1994). In recent years, researchers have suggested that substance abuse may be a significant factor in all types of domestic violence, including child maltreatment (Wolfner & Gelles, 1993). The most recent report from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect indicated that illicit drug abuse probably contributed significantly to increased rates of suspected maltreatment and documented injuries (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). Furthermore, increasing rates of reported physical and sexual abuse, as well as increased numbers of children entering child welfare systems for neglect, have been correlated to widespread substance abuse problems, especially in inner cities (Chaffin, Kelleher, & Hollenberg, 1996; Dore, Doris, & Wright, 1995; Famularo, Kinscherff, & Fenton, 1992). Although most child welfare professionals recognize the relationship between substance abuse and child welfare referrals, actual prevalence rates of child abusers who misuse substances tend to be elusive because not all investigated families are carefully screened for substance use and abuse patterns. The issue is complicated by the understandable inclination of most substance-abusing families to conceal alcohol and drug problems.

Data from research related to prevalence rates of substance abuse in families referred to child welfare have been inconsistent. Chaffin et al. (1996) attempted to correlate substance abuse and maltreatment rates in a nationally representative sample and concluded that substance abuse was present in 21 percent of neglect cases and 15.1 percent of physical abuse cases. Sagatun-Edwards, Saylor, and Shifflett (1995) found that 70 percent of their court-referred sample of child abusers were active polydrug users or were engaged in criminal activities, whereas Murphy et al. (1991) found that 51 percent of their sample were still using drugs even while under mandated supervision. Dicker and Leighton (1994) determined that 88,000 women--nationwide in a single year--had substance abuse histories during pregnancy, resulting in approximately 48,000 potentially compromised newborns. That finding contrasted sharply with the more commonly accepted, frequently quoted, and almost certainly overestimated figure of 375,000 su bstance-exposed newborns discharged annually (Chasnoff, 1989; Dore et al., 1995).

There is a tendency to assume that the very presence of substance abuse is an inevitable predictor of maltreatment (Besharov, 1990; Kelleher, Chaffin, Hollenberg, & Fischer, 1994; Wolock & Magura, 1996). The causal relationship of substance abuse to child maltreatment is not evident, although some research suggests that alcohol is more likely to be present when physical abuse is reported and that cocaine is more likely to be present when sexual abuse occurs (Famularo et al. …

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Effects of Court-Ordered Substance Abuse Treatment in Child Protective Services Cases
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