Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Carolyn McAllister


The estimated number of children born with effects from prenatal alcohol or illicit drugs is over 600,000 per year in the United States. In 2017, California had 5,050 babies test positive at birth for substance use exposure, equating to 14 babies a day. This overwhelming epidemic is mainly placed on the shoulders of Child Welfare Agencies.

The emerging themes in the literature is that states, counties and regions are doing things drastically different from one another in terms of substance exposed infants. Some states are doing more than others, and some have established some best practice techniques, assessments and programs. However, long waitlists remain for substance abuse treatment, and more needs to be done to coordinate between agencies.

Research on this topic was done to help identify any significant contributing factors that might be hindering unbiased child welfare assessments bringing thousands of newborns into foster care unnecessarily. The evaluation of this research topic was accomplished by the gathering of qualitative data via the completion of six semi-structured interviews with a variety of child welfare social workers from three different counties in California. During the data analysis process, the important concepts that emerged from the data were indications that social workers felt they did not have enough time to properly assess and safety plan with this population and felt that parents had an uphill battle in finding and getting into treatment for their substance use disorders in a timely manner.

Another theme that emerged were the tools that child welfare social workers use to assess these situations. Most social workers in this study used Standard Decision Making tool and Circles of Support to help identify safety supports for the family. This data provides insight on the need for barriers to be removed for families struggling with substance use in order to keep families more intact and out of the child welfare system.

Included in

Social Work Commons