No Safe Haven: Children of Substance-Abusing Parents | CASAColumbia

No Safe Haven: Children of Substance-Abusing Parents

No Safe Haven: Children of Substance-Abusing Parents

Published: January 1999

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Children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are almost 3 times likelier to be physically or sexually assaulted and more than 4 times likelier to be neglected by their parents compared to children of parents who are not substance abusers. With 28 million children of alcoholics and several million children of other drug abusers, children and adults in America who, during their lives, have been neglected and/or physically and sexually assaulted by substance-abusing parents constitute a significant portion of our population.


CASAColumbia’s work for this report involved:

  • Analysis of available national data on child abuse and neglect
  • A survey of 915 professionals in the child welfare field
  • A review of more than 800 publications
  • 6 case studies of innovations in the field
  • Numerous interviews with judges, child welfare officials and workers on the front lines


This study revealed that from 1986 to 1997, the number of abused and neglected children in America jumped from 1.4 million to some 3 million. The number of reported abused and neglected children that had been killed climbed from 798 in 1985 to 1,185 in 1996. The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect set the actual number higher, at 2,000, a rate of more than 5 deaths a day. Alcohol, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana use were fueling this explosion of battered and neglected children.

The report also found that alcohol and other drug abuse caused or exacerbated 7 out of 10 cases of child abuse and neglect, and parental substance abuse and addiction was the chief culprit in at least 70%—and up to 90%—of all child welfare spending in the United States. Substance abuse and addiction in 1998 accounted for some $10 billion in federal, state and local government spending simply to maintain child welfare systems.

This $10 billion did not include the costs of providing health care to abused and neglected children, operating law enforcement and judicial systems consumed with this problem, treating the developmental problems of these children, providing special education for them or losses in productivity. Nor did it include the costs attributable to child abuse and neglect that were privately incurred. It was impossible to calculate those costs with precision, but CASAColumbia estimated that they easily added an additional $10 billion to the economic price paid for child abuse and neglect in the U.S. The human costs were incalculable.

This report showed that substance abuse and addiction dangerously compromise or destroy the ability of parents to provide a safe and nurturing home for children and confound the child welfare system’s ability to protect these children.


The report calls for a complete overhaul of the child welfare system and its practices. Social service providers, from agency directors to frontline child welfare workers, judges, court clerks, lawyers, and health and social service staffs, need intensive training in the nature and detection of substance abuse, as well as what to do when they spot it. The report also recommends substantial increases in funding for treatment and health care for substance-abusing parents and their children.

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