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June 2017Vol. 18, No. 4Recovery Coaches and Reunification Odds for Families Battling Substance Use

According to a recent study, families whose children have been removed from the home due to parental substance use are nearly twice as likely to achieve stable reunification when working with a recovery coach compared with families receiving only traditional child welfare services.

Parental substance use is often a factor in child welfare cases. Parents with substance use disorders are at increased risk of having their children removed from the home, and relapses often derail reunification efforts. The study looked at 1,623 substance-involved families with children in foster care. Half the families were treated as the control group and received traditional child welfare services as usual, and the other half were the experimental group that worked with a recovery coach in addition to receiving services as usual. Both groups were similar in terms of race, marital status, employment status, high school graduation status, number of children in the home, and the parents' substance of choice.

A recovery coach is trained as a specialized case manager to help individuals remain sober and substance-free. In child welfare, recovery coaches have been successful in helping families access treatment, reduce time in care, and decrease the risk of repeat maltreatment. Recovery coaches provide a variety of services in addition to client coaching, including comprehensive clinical assessments, service planning, and case management.

The study focused specifically on the records associated with substitute care placements in order to construct a dependent measure of reunification stability. The three possible values for this dependent measure include children who were not reunified with their birth families within three years of their placement, children who were reunified with their families within three years from the start of their placement but subsequently returned to out-of-home care within 12 months, and children who were reunified and remained so for the 12-month observation period.

The authors acknowledge that a major shortcoming of the study is that it fails to capture the reason for disrupted reunifications. They note that such information is essential in understanding what events might cause a child's reentry into out-of-home care. Another missing piece is the absence of any measure of treatment fidelity, as this information would be key in identifying the specific recovery coach services most responsible for helping to achieve reunification stability.

"Recovery Coaches and the Stability of Reunification for Substance Abusing Families in Child Welfare," by Joseph P. Ryan, Bryan G. Victor, Andrew Moore, Orion Mowbray, and Brian E. Perron, Children and Youth Services Review, 70, 2016, is available through ScienceDirect at