The Impact of Parental Substance Abuse on the Foster Care System

Over the last several years, parental substance abuse in the United States has had an overwhelmingly negative impact on the child welfare system— especially foster care. With more and more adults falling victim to addiction, their children grow up in unhealthy environments as a result. In an attempt to rectify this, several states have begun to make adjustments to their child welfare laws. Now, it’s possible in some places for Child Protective Services (CPS) to remove children from addicted households if the parents don’t receive treatment.


Parental Substance Abuse and Child Custody

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is ‘a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.’

Unfortunately, these consequences can hurt anyone in the home. Parental substance abuse is the leading reason why state governments take custody of children. In fact, CPS removes roughly one in every three children from their homes because at least one parent has an addiction that results in child abuse or neglect.


Revealing Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services

The number of children that have entered the foster care system has continued to increase over the last four years. The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) annual report from 2016 accounted for the admission of 437,500 children. This is about 40,500 more children in foster care than what was recorded in 2012 when the admission rates began to rise.

A significant factor behind this increase is the effects of the opioid crisis on parents. HHS has determined that parental substance abuse made up about 34% of the foster care cases in 2016. Just one year earlier, more than 62,000 children in foster care did not return home to their biological families because CPS had terminated their parents’ rights.

Unfortunately, the state can’t always accommodate the sharp increase in foster care admissions. Some areas just don’t have enough foster families for children in the state’s care. So, in recent years, the foster care system has been relying on relatives to take in displaced children. In fact, according to a Generations United report, non-parental family members took in more than one-third of child relatives that came from substance-addicted households in 2014.


Increasing Efforts to Create New Child Welfare Laws

Most child protection laws today address the issue of parental substance abuse. In fact, 47 states have implemented child protection laws to combat the increasingly negative impact of parental substance abuse on children. Additionally, 33 of these states have criminalized the exposure of substance abuse activity to children.

Several states have expanded their respective definitions of child abuse and child neglect to include parental substance abuse. This is because, at the very least, substance abuse impairs the parents’ ability to care for their children properly. At the worst, exposure of illegal drug activity to a child can threaten the child’s health and safety. This includes prenatal exposure to addictive substances during pregnancy.

There are also a few state and federal laws that address the issue of substance abuse during or after pregnancy. In some states, both scenarios qualify as child abuse and could lead to complete termination of parental rights. Healthcare providers in states that implement the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) are required to notify CPS of high-risk parental substance abuse cases. In other words, if parents expose their baby to substance abuse, the CPS must step in.


Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Methods

Although parental substance abuse is still a problem in America today, several programs are beginning to implement both addiction prevention and treatment options for parents who are actively trying to get sober. Some examples include:

  • early identification and accommodation of high-risk families in addiction treatment programs
  • priority access to addiction treatment for parents already involved in the child welfare system
  • addiction treatment services to treat the whole family, including the children affected by parental substance addiction (i.e., therapy, counseling, etc.)
  • abstinence practice, recovery coaching, and relapse prevention services


Keep Your Family Together with Help from The Treatment Center

Addiction may be a disease, but it is one that can put children of substance users at risk. Unfortunately, the negative repercussions of parental substance abuse result in hundreds of thousands of children entering foster care every year. Parents who abuse substances may not be able to care for their children properly. Worse still, they are putting their children’s health and safety at risk, even if it’s unintentional.

Still, there is hope for families struggling with addiction to stay together and receive help. At The Treatment Center, our team of experienced medical professionals and addiction experts offer a wide variety of programs and services to help struggling parents get sober. If you or a loved one is trying to get sober, call The Treatment Center at 855-899-5065 for more information about our personalized treatment plans. All calls are confidential.