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09-06-2020 | Original Paper | Uitgave 10/2020

Journal of Child and Family Studies 10/2020

Family Treatment Court-Involved Parents’ Perceptions of their Substance Use and Parenting

Journal of Child and Family Studies > Uitgave 10/2020
Margaret H. Lloyd Sieger, Robert Haswell
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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


As the opioid epidemic continues to push children into the child welfare system, child protection agencies and courts are forced to grapple with the topic of parental substance use treatment. One mechanism for improving treatment retention and effectiveness is understanding the parents’ perspectives on their own substance use, including its impact on their parenting, before and during child welfare system involvement. In-depth interviews with 17 currently or recently-involved parents in a Midwestern family treatment court, which are specialized child welfare dockets designed to address substance use, were conducted and analyzed using constant comparative coding. Seven themes reflecting parents’ views on their substance use over their life course emerged. Parents described early and easy access to substances, which normalized substance taking. Parents described non-linear trajectories over time that culminated in child welfare involvement. Parents viewed substances as both helping and hurting their ability to parent, took precautions to protect their children while also exposing their children to substance-related risks, and experienced a strong desire to stop using while simultaneously continuing to use. Parents with substance use disorders who enter the child welfare system have long histories of trauma, cyclical and worsening substance use trajectories, and easy access to substances in their immediate social surroundings. These parents also have several strengths upon which to capitalize, including efforts to protect their children from their addictions, earlier periods of sobriety, and substantial awareness of their own experiences. Working effectively with these parents requires attention to the full scope of their perspectives and experiences.

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