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May 2011Vol. 12, No. 4Benefits of Family-Focused Residential Substance Abuse Treatment

A recent qualitative study of 21 graduates of a residential substance abuse treatment program in Los Angeles suggests that a program that allows children to stay with their mothers during treatment can result in better long-term outcomes for the mothers and the children. In a Child Welfare journal article, author Susan D. Einbinder of California State University recounts the stories of 21 long-term, poly-substance abusing mothers who successfully completed an 18-month, family-focused residential substance abuse treatment program that helped them retain or regain custody of their children. Sixteen mothers had entered the program due to substantiated child maltreatment reports; all of them successfully reunified with their children during program participation.

The Exodus program is a family-friendly substance abuse treatment program at Shields for Families that provides comprehensive residential substance abuse treatment. Each family receives individualized, comprehensive case management services throughout and beyond the 18-month program. This includes individual intensive substance abuse treatment for the parent(s), as well as an array of programs and services addressing parenting, health, mental health, education, employment, financial management, legal assistance, children's socialization experiences, and more. From 1994 through 2001, approximately 80 percent of parents who began Exodus successfully completed the program; many of these parents retained or regained custody of their children.

In a review of the research on substance abuse treatment, the author highlights many potential advantages to family-friendly approaches, including developmental improvements among children living with their mothers in residential substance abuse treatment and improved parenting skills among the mothers. In addition, the research shows that allowing mothers to retain custody helps them complete treatment and maintain sobriety and abstinence afterward. Allowing children to remain with their parents also would greatly reduce foster care utilization.

The article, "A Qualitative Study of Exodus Graduates: Family-Focused Residential Substance Abuse Treatment as an Option for Mothers to Retain or Regain Custody and Sobriety in Los Angeles, California," was published in the July/August 2010 issue of the journal Child Welfare (89(4)) and is available for purchase on the Child Welfare League of America website: