Is there a link between parental drug use and the prevalence of child maltreatment and/or the increase in the number of children in foster care?


Parental substance use is generally recognized as a risk factor for child maltreatment; however, it is difficult to obtain precise, current statistics on the number of families affected by substance use issues in the absence of an ongoing, standardized, national data collection on the topic.

As substance use is often involved in child welfare cases, most states are able to report on whether drug and alcohol use by a caregiver is associated with child protective services' investigation/intervention and removal of a child from the home.

The yearly Child Maltreatment reports summarize child abuse and neglect statistics submitted by state child protective services agencies to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, a voluntary national data collection and analysis system created in response to the requirements of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (P.L. 93-247) as amended. Chapter 3 of the Child Maltreatment reports specifically discusses the children who are the subjects of reports (screened-in referrals) and the characteristics of those who are determined to be victims of abuse and neglect, presenting number of victims with drug use as a caregiver risk factor.

Although substance use by itself is not necessarily a primary reason for foster care entry, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), which collects case-level information on all children in foster care, references drug use in the context of foster care data.

In spite of great variation in how states report factors that contribute to foster care cases, AFCARS includes parental drug use as a category under "circumstances associated with child's removal."

Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, provides a publication Parental Substance Use and the Child Welfare System that highlights the intersection of substance use disorder and child maltreatment with particular focus on recent research, statistics, and survey results.

See also the National Conference of State Legislatures for a compilation of substance use and child welfare resources, including state initiatives, anecdotal information, and links to national organizations.

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