Substance Use in the Child Welfare System


Supporting and Preserving Families Webinar Series, Part 2

"Substance Use in the Child Welfare System," held on August 12, 2021, was the second in LSNJ's webinar series Supporting and Preserving Families. Over 100 attorneys, judges, social workers, and other child welfare professionals attended and heard from panelists Tricia Stephens, LCSW-R, PhD, Elizabeth Brico, and Alexandra Travis. Jey Rajaraman, Chief Counsel of LSNJ's Family Representation Project (FRP), moderated the panel.

The webinar provided a context for the topic of substance use in the child welfare system, and highlighted the overrepresentation of Black children in the foster care system nationally and in New Jersey. Professor Tricia Stephens, LCSW-R, PhD, Assistant Professor at Silberman School of Social Work, encouraged the audience to challenge the stigma surrounding substance use in the child welfare system by thinking about substances from a humanistic perspective. Professor Stephens also discussed scientific research that demonstrates that substance use is not a predictor of child abuse or neglect. She called on the child welfare system to stop treating substance use as a reason for removal and support rather than punish parents who struggle with substance use disorder.

Elizabeth Brico, freelance writer and journalist, and Alexandra Travis, Parent Ally for LSNJ's FRP, shared their personal stories to further challenge the way the child welfare system vilifies substance use. The panelists called on the system to stop the use of drug tests in assessing substance use, make timely referrals to evidence-based treatment programs, and, most importantly, to challenge the narrative that parents who use substances or suffer from substance use disorder are "bad parents." With better support and access to treatment, the trauma of child removal could be prevented and cases involving substance use could have more positive outcomes for children and families.


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