• June 2006
  • Vol. 7, No. 5

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Recovery Coaches for Parents With Substance Abuse

Family reunification can be delayed for families involved with child welfare when parents with substance abuse are slow to access treatment. A recent study found that substance-abusing parents who worked with "recovery coaches" accessed treatment and achieved family reunification faster than parents who received standard treatment.

Using Federal money under a title IV-E waiver, Illinois conducted a demonstration in which they used recovery coaches to engage and retain parents in treatment to improve reunification and other family permanency and safety outcomes for foster children from drug-involved families. In 4 years, 943 parents received help from recovery coaches in addition to other services; 366 parents received standard services. Both groups of parents received an assessment through the Juvenile Court Assessment Program, as well as a referral and intake appointment for substance abuse treatment with an appropriate program. In addition to traditional substance abuse treatment and child welfare services, parents in the experimental or "waiver" group were assigned a recovery coach. Recovery coaches worked with parents, caseworkers, and drug treatment agencies to remove barriers to treatment, engage parents, and provide ongoing support. An evaluation found a number of differences in outcomes for the two groups:

  • Parents who worked with recovery coaches accessed drug treatment more quickly and were more likely to complete at least one level of care than parents receiving standard services.
  • Parents who worked with recovery coaches were less likely to have a subsequent allegation of maltreatment.
  • Families in the recovery coach group were more likely to achieve reunification and to achieve it more quickly.

In addition, the evaluation showed that the use of recovery coaches saved Illinois more than $5 million, which the State could then reinvest in child welfare services.

The study was also useful in bringing to light some other factors that affect whether parents will be able to complete treatment successfully. The two issues associated with limiting reunification were (1) co-occurring problems—including domestic violence, mental health issues, and housing—and (2) a lack of progress in these problem areas, including the area of drug treatment recovery.

The study, Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) Waiver Demonstration: Final Evaluation Report, by J. P. Ryan, is available on the website of the Children and Family Research Center of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work:

http://cfrcwww.social.uiuc.edu/pubs/Pdf.files/AODA.01.06.pdf (Editor's note: Link no longer active)

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