Parental Substance Abuse and Child Neglect: Findings from a Family Treatment Drug Court
Child neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment, and yet less recognized, treated, or researched than child physical or sexual abuse. Child neglect is also highly associated with parental substance abuse, parents' trauma histories, and trauma symptoms. This study explores the relation between parental substance abuse, parental history of trauma and trauma-related symptoms, and child neglect within a sample of families involved in a family treatment drug court (FTDC) for parental substance abuse and child neglect. Data were collected on 70 mothers and fathers who became involved with the FTDC because they neglected their children as a result of their substance abuse. Parental substance abuse was assessed at intake using a semi-structured clinical interview. Parents' trauma history, trauma symptoms, and parenting attitudes were collected using self-report measures. A trained clinician assessed family functioning and parenting techniques. The severity of parents' alcohol problems and trauma histories were found to impact their use of adaptive parenting techniques. Parents' trauma symptoms and trauma histories were found to differentially impact the parent-child relationship; children of parents with more severe trauma symptoms were at a greater risk of neglect while children of parents who experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences were at a lower risk of neglect. Parents' trauma histories and experience of childhood neglect also impacted treatment gains. Recommendations for assessing parents' trauma histories and symptoms as they relate to substance abuse and child welfare treatment planning are discussed. Methods to improve the study of child neglect are also identified as they pertain to families affected by substance abuse and trauma.