The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Evaluating the Efficacy of a Family Drug Court

Friday, January 17, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Jody Brook, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas, Overland Park, KS
Yan Yueqi, MS, Graduate Research Assistant/PhD Student, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Margaret H. Lloyd, MS, Graduate Research Assistant/PhD Student, University of Kansas, Overland Park, KS
Purpose: Families affected by substance abuse are arguably the hardest cases to handle in the child welfare system.  These children stay in foster care longer, are less likely to reunify with their parent(s) and are more likely to end up back in the child welfare system.  Historically, these cases have been handled in traditional child welfare courts.  Given the complexities of families with substance abuse, traditional courts may be insufficient for handling these hard-to-treat cases. Family drug courts (FDCs) emerged nearly twenty years ago as an alternative to traditional courts for handling child abuse and neglect cases involving parental substance issues.  A growing body of evidence suggests that FDCs may be more effective than their traditional counterpart at reunifying these families; however, prior studies have been limited in their methodological rigor.  The purpose of this study is to rigorously examine whether participation in a family drug court is associated with an increased likelihood of reunification. 

Method: This study used treatment and comparison data to test the question of interest. Treatment group data was collected on a sample of 147 children whose child welfare cases were being adjudicated in an integrated family drug court in a midsized Midwestern city.  The comparison group was assembled from a state database of traditional child welfare cases involving parental substance abuse using propensity score matching on six variables (time in placement, child age, child gender, and three child race/ethnicity variables), resulting in a matched comparison group of 236 children.  This study used a Cox regression model with hazard rate to evaluate reunification rate between groups, controlling for variables previously found to influence reunification rates.  The cluster option was used to address the nested nature of this data.

Results: Outcome data suggest that FDC children were significantly more likely to reunify than comparison cases (H.R.=2.72, p=.01), after controlling for age, gender, race/ethnicity and reason for removal.  The Hazard rate suggests that FDC children reunified at a rate almost three times greater than comparison group children.  None of the covariates were significantly associated with reunification.

Implications: This study adds to the growing body of literature supporting the efficacy of family drug courts for meeting policy driven goals with this challenging population.  These findings support social workers’ continued involvement with FDCs, since they provide a more effective and service oriented way of processing child welfare cases involving parental substance abuse than traditional child welfare courts.  Future research should evaluate best practices for social workers in this setting.