In America, millions of children live in households that have at least one parent affected by a substance use disorder.
In America, millions of children live in households that have at least one parent affected by a substance use disorder[i]. This can lead to serious disruption within the home that can result in significant problems for the child’s health and well-being. For this reason, care must be taken to make sure that the children of addicts receive the help they need to thrive, now and in the future.
Parents affected by a substance use disorder (substance abuse and/or addiction) undergo physical and behavioral changes that can destabilize the family and lead to child harm[ii]. Specific negative impacts include:
The chances for harm are highest in families with two addicted or substance-abusing parents. A parent without substance problems who creates a supportive environment for children can help limit the potential for damage.
A child who grows up in a home with an addicted or substance-abusing parent can experience a range of destabilizing consequences. In addition to possible exposure to maltreatment, these consequences include:
The harms imparted to children may have a direct connection to parental substance use problems. However, they may also stem from more indirect factors such as increased arguing within the household or bouts of parental depression. In fact, the presence of diagnosable depression (or any other mental health condition) in a parent can lead to worsening emotional problems in children. Children have a reduced risk for harm when parents with substance problems seek help and stop using drugs or alcohol.
Public health experts and child advocates have developed a variety of methods for providing the children of addicts[iii] with proactive, preventive care. One key method is early identification of potentially harmful situations with the help of a family assessment procedure. This type of assessment is typically conducted by a child protective services (CPS) caseworker. It includes these basic steps:
When parents are already enrolled in drug or alcohol rehab, CPS is sometimes alerted to potential problems by the staff members of treatment programs. In addition, effective prenatal screening by doctors can help identify parents at-risk for creating unsafe home environments.
Proactive care for children with substance-using parents can also take other forms. For instance, some public health resources and programs teach parenting skills that help reduce the odds of creating unstable households. Other programs and resources provide support by helping parents make important social connections outside the home.
CPS caseworkers also work to assist children already affected by the harmful actions of substance-abusing parents. Removal of a child from parental custody is one option. However, when possible, it’s better to provide help in less disruptive ways.
In some cases, mothers with substance problems can enter treatment programs that accommodate the presence of children. However, a more common option is family/child support during an affected parent’s participation in rehab. This support can take the form of temporary placement of children in a host family for the duration of treatment. It can also take the form of counseling.
A common goal of counseling for children with substance-addicted parents is to make sure they know they don’t share any blame for their parents’ drug or alcohol use. Counseling can also:
In some states, families with children in foster care can also take advantage of professional recovery coaches. These coaches work with all concerned parties, including parents, their children and the CPS caseworkers. Use of this kind of specialized help increases the odds that parents will actively engage in substance treatment. It also decreases the amount of time children spend in foster care and helps parents establish stable home environments in the future.
At Transformations Treatment Center, we offer certified treatment options for people of all backgrounds, including parents of younger and older children. In addition to providing help through our partial hospitalization program, we offer an intensive outpatient program for anyone whose life circumstances don’t permit enrollment in a residential program. Both options feature customized care that seeks to optimize the benefits of treatment for every participating client.