Factors associated with the reunification of foster care children and their mothers

Author/Creator ORCID




Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Citation of Original Publication



With the increase in substance use disorders among parents involved in child welfare, children are at an increased risk for maltreatment, continued foster care placement, and permanent legal separation from their biological parents. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of substance use disorders on reunification and timeliness of reunification as well as create a profile of characteristics describing which children and mothers are more likely to be reunified within one year or less. This study conducted a quantitative analysis of an administrative child welfare database, Targeted Grants to Increase the Well-Being of and to Improve the Permanency Outcomes for Children Affected by Methamphetamine or Other Substance Abuse (September 30, 2007-September 30, 2012). The study sample included 6,495 children and 4,623 mothers stratified by type of sibling: youngest, oldest, or only to create a one to one observation. Logistic regression and multiple logistic regression were used to identify significant predictors or reunification and timeliness of reunification. For children, age, race/ethnicity, and prior abuse history impacted the likelihood of reunification. Children who were less than one year old, African American, and a victim of prior abuse were significantly less likely to be reunified with their mothers. In addition, mothers who were age 39 or younger, African American, never married, had less than 12 years of education, unemployed, homeless, using heroin/opiates, cocaine/crack, and marijuana, not able to enter or complete treatment, and entered residential treatment were significantly less likely to be reunified with their children. Race/ethnicity and particular substance use characteristics had consistent significant impact on reunification and timeliness of reunification. In conclusion, this study will help to guide collaborations that will produce more effective innovations in program development, practice, and policies designed to prevent child maltreatment in families who are affected by alcohol and other drugs.