Could Drug Treatment Courts Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect?

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To reduce the potential for child abuse, drug treatment courts serving parents convicted on a drug-related offense should consider combing drug deterrence programs with family therapeutic treatment, according to a study published in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

The study found that children whose parents are convicted on a drug-related offense are more likely to be involved with Child Protective Services than their peers, but a parent’s participation in a family drug treatment court program—rather than an adult drug treatment court program can reduce a child’s time in foster care, according to the authors of the study entitled “Parental Criminal Justice Involvement and Children’s Involvement With Child Protective Services: Do Adult Drug Treatment Courts Prevent Child Maltreatment?”

One difference between the two programs is that the adult court treatment program operates as part of the criminal system and is mainly focused on reducing substance use and criminal recidivism while the family program operates as part of the civil system and focuses on helping parents regain custody.

To improve outcomes for children whose parents participate in adult drug treatment courts, courts should consider “fostering relationships with social service agencies in addition to criminal justice agencies” and expanding the “therapeutic value of the court,” write Elizabeth J. Gifford,  Lindsey M. EldredFrank A. Sloan and Kelly E. Evans. “The structure of these two types of courts suggests that for a diversionary treatment program to improve outcomes for children of participants, it must not only treat a substance user’s addiction, but there also must be resources aimed at family preservation.”

The study is available for a fee here. (Journalists who would like to access the study free of charge should email Deputy Editor Alice Popovici at

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