U.S Department of Health and Human Services U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Understanding Substance Abuse and Child Welfare Issues: A Guide for Legislators

Legislators face many difficult issues affecting the lives of children in the care of the child welfare system. The last few years have seen a great deal of legislative activity on both the State and Federal levels aimed at improving services to children and families in the child welfare system. Passed in 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) requires that States define the circumstances under which reasonable efforts to preserve or reunify families shall not be required, speed up the timetable for approval of permanency plans, make reasonable efforts to find permanent placements for children and initiate proceedings to terminate parental rights under certain circumstances. The passing of ASFA has given new impetus to addressing alcohol and other drug issues in families in the child welfare system. States’ implementation of ASFA demands a new level of cooperation between child welfare and substance abuse treatment workers. State lawmakers play an important role in ensuring the safety, permanency, and well-being of children who are in the child welfare system because of their parents' drug and alcohol problems. State lawmakers can, among other things, initiate statewide planning processes, define desired outcomes, mandate integration of child welfare and substance abuse treatment services, fund treatment and ancillary support services, and prioritize treatment resources to ensure that parents receive the services they need to safely care for their children. This tutorial will provide important information about substance abuse treatment and child welfare services, stress the importance of collaboration and the ways in which legislation can support collaboration, and provide legislators with examples of successful initiatives throughout the country.