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Although a high level of involvement with the child protection system has been identified in families where parental substance use is a feature, not all such parents abuse or neglect their children or have contact with the child protection system. Identifying parents with substance-use histories who are able to care for their children without intervention by the child protection system, and being able to target interventions to the families who need them the most is important. This study interviewed a relatively large sample of mothers about their histories, their children and their involvement with the child protection system. We hypothesized that mothers in opioid pharmacological treatment who are involved with child protection services are different in characteristics to those mothers who are not involved.


One hundred and seventy-one women, with at least one child aged under 16 years, were interviewed at nine treatment clinics providing pharmacological treatment for opioid dependence across Sydney, Australia.


Just over one-third of the women were involved with child protection services at the time of interview, mostly with children in out-of-home care. Logistic regression analyses revealed that factors which significantly increased the likelihood of the mother being involved with the child protection system were: (1) having a greater number of children, (2) being on psychiatric medication, and (3) having less than daily contact with her own parents.


This study replicates and extends the work of Grella, Hser, and Huang (2006) and the limited literature published to date examining the factors which contribute to some substance-using mothers becoming involved with the child protection system while others do not. The finding that mental health problems and parental supports (along with the number of children) were significantly associated with child protection system involvement in this study, indicates a need for improved interventions and the provision of treatment and support services if we are to reduce the involvement of the child protection system with these families.


Institute of Child Protection Studies

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Journal Article

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