Abstract: The Termination of Parental Rights for Substance Abusing Caregivers in Child Welfare: for Whom and Then What? (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

53P The Termination of Parental Rights for Substance Abusing Caregivers in Child Welfare: for Whom and Then What?

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Jun S. Hong, MSW , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Doctoral Student, Urbana, IL
Pedro Hernandez, PhD , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Research Specialist, Urbana, IL
Joseph P. Ryan, PhD , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Associate Professor, Urbana, IL
Purpose: The termination of parental rights (TPR) is a potential consequence of the physical abuse and neglect of children. Subsequent to termination, the custodial rights of parents are completely abolished. Although TPR is not new in child welfare, recent legislation (ASFA) not only renewed interest in TPR but also intended to shorten the timelines associated with TPR. Unfortunately, rigorous empirical investigations of TRP are scant. The purpose of the current study is to address this significant gap in the literature. We focus specifically on one of the most vulnerable populations in child welfare; children placed in foster care because of a substance abusing parent. The objective is to understand the factors that help explain TPR, and to understand what happens with regard to permanency once parental rights are terminated. We are particularly interested in how treatment progress (as rated by caseworkers) impacts the likelihood of TPR.

Methods and Results: We use a variety of survey and administrative data sources associated with the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) Waiver Demonstration. The AODA waiver utilizes an experimental design to test the effectiveness of recovery coaches in child welfare. The current study focuses on two outcomes of interest: the termination of parental rights within three years, and the location of youth 12 months subsequent to TPR. We utilize a variety of bivariate techniques and hierarchical non linear modeling to predict TPR. The regression models account for child and family demographics, and treatment progress across the following domains: substance abuse, mental health, housing, parenting skills, and domestic violence. The HLM findings indicate that older youth are less likely to be associated with TPR (p = .00; OR: .83). Parents who were incarcerated were also 1.4 times more likely to have their rights terminated. Regarding treatment progress, parents who were rated as not making at least sufficient progress were at an increased risk of TPR. This is true for the following problem areas: substance misuse issues (p = .00; OR: .45) and parental skills (p = .00; OR: .52). Regarding what happens post TPR, we investigated the placement location of youth 12 months subsequent to the changing of the permanency goal to TPR (n=1,178). At this observation point, 65% (748) were adopted, 31% (356) were in foster care, 3% (29) were reunified with their biological parent(s), and 3% (36) were in a residential setting.

Conclusions: The current study focused on identifying families that were at greatest risk of experiencing TPR, and on understanding what happens to youth subsequent to TPR. The findings indicate that decisions to terminate parental rights are largely based on the lack of treatment progress. This is good news, as parental rights are not more likely to occur for any particular racial/ethnic group. The bad news is that even after 12 months post TPR, more than 30% of children and adolescents have yet to achieve permanency. These findings raise important questions about for whom TPR is most appropriate, and the likelihood of achieving permanency post TPR.