Substance using parents, foster care, and termination of parental rights: The importance of risk factors for legal outcomes
Using mixed methods, we compared appellate court foster care cases where parents' rights were terminated to those in which decisions to terminate parental rights were reversed or remanded to better understand the experiences of parents struggling with alcohol and drug use. A content analysis of 60 cases was conducted; 30 cases in which parental rights were terminated, and 30 where decisions to terminate parental rights were overturned or remanded to the lower court. Parents whose rights were terminated were more likely to have mental health problems and experienced incarceration. In addition, when a composite score of risk factors was analyzed, parents whose rights were terminated had significantly more risk factors. For both groups, poverty was an equally common risk factor. Implications include universal assessments for alcohol and drug abuse for parents involved in the child welfare system and timely referrals to appropriate treatment. Further, collaboration between mental health providers, substance use treatment programs, and caseworkers to address the integration of potential risk factors may help promote successful outcomes for parents whose children are in foster care.
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