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Introduction and Aims

A substantial proportion of women in treatment for substance use problems are mothers of dependent children, but only a small number of studies have explored the nature and extent of their child protection involvement with substance-using mothers themselves.

Design and Methods

A large sample of mothers on the opioid treatment program (OTP) in Sydney, Australia, were interviewed. This paper describes their characteristics, the extent and nature of their involvement with the child protection system, the parenting-related interventions provided and their views of their own parenting.


The 171 mothers were disadvantaged and marginalised and had 302 children under the age of 16 years, 99 of whom were in out-of-home care. Nearly half the children in care (n=42) had been removed at the time of their birth, and half (n=49) had been removed from a mother who was on an OTP at the time. Among the younger children (age 1–2 years), higher proportions had been removed at birth than among the older children. None of the 32 mothers who had a child removed at birth and then gave birth subsequently retained care of their new baby. Women often chose to enter treatment (63.6%) for child-related reasons (35%) and attempted to shield their children from their substance use. Few health services were provided to them outside the availability of OTP.

Discussion and Conclusions

Entering treatment presents an opportunity for improving outcomes for these women and their children and to reduce future involvement with the child protection system.


Institute of Child Protection Studies

Document Type

Journal Article

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