Substance Abuse and Women

February, 2000


An estimated 40 to 80 percent of the children in the child welfare system today have families with alcohol and drug problems. To ensure safety and a permanent home for these children as well as appropriate alcohol and drug treatment and prevention services for their families, new partnerships are needed. Child welfare and alcohol and drug prevention and treatment agencies must work together at federal, state, and local levels, and with other services providers, the courts, community leaders, and family members.

Many of the families who may benefit most from this new collaboration will be single parent households headed by women. Treatment for women with children strengthens families, reduces child welfare costs, youth drug use, crime and violence, health care costs, and supports the effective implementation of welfare reform

  • The average yearly savings in foster care costs for every child reunited with his/her mother during or after treatment is more than $10,000.

  • Six months to a year after treatment: more than 67% of women were not using drugs or alcohol; 90% were not involved with the criminal justice system; employment increased eight-fold.

Unfortunately, access to alcohol and drug treatment does not meet the current need for services. Only 50% of the individuals who need treatment receive it. Waiting lists for alcohol and drug treatment are 6 months long in some regions. Funding from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, which has supported residential programs for women and children and programs for pregnant and postpartum women and infants, has ended or will be ending this year for most grantees. Without additional funding, many programs for women with children will have to reduce or discontinue the services they offer, widening the treatment gap for these families.

A coalition is forming with the USCCB, Child Welfare League of America and the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, as well as other groups concerned about children and families, to promote a proposal to secure new federal funding which would enable child welfare and alcohol and drug prevention and treatment agencies to work in cooperation, addressing the impact of alcohol and drug abuse on children and families in the child welfare system.

The proposal promotes meaningful partnerships to protect children and help families by:

  • Requiring directors of the state child welfare and alcohol and drug prevention and treatment agencies to jointly plan, apply for and administer the new program funds;

  • Focusing grant activities on families with alcohol and drug problems who come to the attention of the child welfare system; and

  • Encouraging joint activities designed to increase the capacity of both the child welfare and alcohol and drug systems to address comprehensively the needs of these families, improving child safety, family stability and permanence, and promoting recovery from alcohol and drug problems.

The proposal also offers agencies increased resources and flexibility to eliminate barriers to treatment and to child safety and permanence allowing states to implement a range of comprehensive individualized alcohol and drug prevention and treatment services.

Our Position:

In New Slavery, New Freedom [1990], the bishops recognized that substance abuse creates many casualties, the most tragic of which are the children. Some are placed in foster care as substance abusing parents are no longer capable of providing financial or emotional support. Others are born addicted themselves, heirs of the drug slavery destroying their mothers. Abuse of alcohol and other drugs victimizes hundreds of thousands of other children in their own homes when it fuels the gratuitous violence and anger of their parents.

In Putting Children and Families First [1991], the bishops identified that unborn and other children are at risk from substance abuse. They called for expanded national efforts at education and prevention, the provision of prenatal and other health care, and treatment and rehabilitation of abusers of alcohol and other drugs. System-wide reform was called for, including special attention to families where there is substance abuse.

The bishops also noted that our nation's continuing failure to guarantee access to quality health care for all people exacts its most painful toll in the preventable sickness, disability, and deaths of our infants and children. They called for extension of access to quality health care to all, beginning with our children and their mothers and stressed that there can be no excuse for the failure to ensure adequate health care and nutrition for pregnant women since nothing would make a greater contribution to reducing infant mortality than progress in this area.

What You Can Do:

Right now the focus is on getting sponsors in the Senate and the House, especially Republicans. The groups in the coalition hope to have legislation introduced in early 2000. Please urge your members of Congress to consider supporting this legislation. While it is just the first step in a long road to assuring adequate and appropriate treatment for mothers who abuse drugs or alcohol, it is an important step towards that goal.