A Better Today

Child Protective Services
& Substance Abuse

Content Medically Reviewed by:

Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH

The Effects of Drug & Alcohol Addictions on Children: Losing Your Kids to CPS

Many parents with substance abuse problems lose their children to Child Protective Services (CPS), Department of Children and Families, or Department of Social Services, depending on where you live. Once in recovery, parents often want to get custody back, and most are allowed to do so. These parents must prove that they are fit for the job and that their parenting is in the child’s best interest.

Children are the most vulnerable individuals who are affected by substance abuse. When guardians struggle with substance abuse, children are often neglected, abused, and subject to traumatic experiences. This makes them more prone to mental and physical illness and develops unhealthy coping mechanisms and future substance abuse.

A new Harvard study reveals that it is three times more likely that these kids will be abused and four times as likely to be neglected. Additionally, research in the last decade shows significant neurobiological consequences to early stress and maltreatment. Differences in brain development, correlated with psychological and physical health issues, were found in people who experienced excessive stress in childhood.

Learn about why state child protective service departments like CPS takes kids away, the correlation between childhood trauma and substance abuse, as well as how to regain custody of your child in sobriety.

Social Services is Named Differently Depending on State

  • Child Protective Services (CPS)
  • Department of Social Services (DSS)
  • Department of Children and Families (DCF)
  • Department of Youth and Addiction (DYFS)

While the names of these organizations may vary depending upon your state, their mission is the same. Their duty is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children. Addiction can cause a tremendous amount of dysfunction, which more often than not places children directly in harm’s way. Parents who find themselves being investigated by social services for drug use, or alcohol use, are likely to feel fearful and unsure of what to do. Dealing with social services can be confusing. Read on to learn more about what to do in these situations and how to gain your parental rights back in full.

The Best Ways to Regain Custody After Drug Use

Best Ways to Get Custody Back After Drug Abuse

When parent(s) are faced with an open CPS investigation or case, the best way to regain custody after drug use is simply to comply with the CPS, DSS, or DES case manager’s requests. An open CPS case due to your drug use can often feel like it’s the end of the world. The truth is, it is only the end of the world if the parent(s) make no effort to comply. If the parent is struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction, complying may be impossible without intervention.

Here are some of the best ways to regain custody after drug use

  • Spend time in a drug and alcohol rehab – complete the program and turn in your certificate of completion to the caseworker.
  • Comply with ALL drug testing requirements – don’t miss any at all.
  • Ensure that your home environment is safe and ready for your children.
  • Maintain employment, or show proof that you can support yourself and your children.

The main goal always it to overcome your addiction and create a safe, healthy, and stable environment for your children.

The sooner you begin carrying out this plan, the better. We here can help you do just this and connect you with a short or long-term drug rehab program. Getting help sends a message of willingness to be a better parent. It’s time to be the amazing parent you were meant to be.

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Why Were My Children Removed From my Care? 

Addiction is a physical and psychological disorder; the addicted brain is crippled by dependence so that healthy decisions and prioritization are virtually impossible. Sadly, parents are not immune to addiction and the children of addicted parents are at high risk for neglect, abuse and trauma.

Parents addicted to substances usually struggle financially, making it difficult to care for their children. Children may not get enough food to eat or proper clothing. They may suffer in the extreme cold and heat, or be without clean water, if utilities are shut off.

Many children are left alone, unsupervised, while their parents are intoxicated or out obtaining more drugs or alcohol. Any young child is in danger when unsupervised, as children don’t know to take certain precautions or are incapable of doing so. They are vulnerable to injury, illness, as well as the abuse of ill-intentioned adults.

Traumatic experiences are common for these children, in the form of scary or stressful situations, as well as direct abuse. A child may see a parent unresponsive or convulsing from overdose. A dealer might come to collect money at gunpoint. Parents under the influence or withdrawing aren’t in their right minds. They may hurt or mistreat kids when intoxicated or experiencing the mood fluctuation, mental disclarity or psychosis of withdrawal.

Will CPS Give My Children Back? What’s the Process Like?

Child Protective Services (CPS) intervenes in many cases of parental drug use every year. Remember, custody rights are always based on what is in the child’s best interest. While it is preferred to keep children with parents, or at least in the family, parental rights are often removed for perpetual substance abuse issues.

When children are removed from custody due to drug use, the law demands an attempt for parent and child to be reunited at least once. In many cases, if the parent doesn’t rectify the problem in a timely matter (usually about a year), though, rights are removed again. Sadly, children are separated from their parents often due to substance abuse.

Sometimes this happens after arrests or drug charges, sometimes because of reported abuse or negligence. Whatever the reason, it is always sad to see families split up. CPS attempts to work with many families, with the main goal of keeping parents and children together. The highest priority, though, is always to ensure the safety and well-being of the child.

Visitation and unsupervised parenting time are prohibited once a parent is discovered to be abusing drugs or alcohol. After this point, a parent must prove that treatment for substance abuse is completed and he or she has sustained abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Substance Abuse Affects Each Family Member Differently

What is CPS Trying to Protect My Children From?

Children who grow up around substance abuse often develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, one of which is abusing substances themselves. Children learn from their parents how to behave, how to deal with stress, appropriate relationship boundaries, and so on.

If parents often use substances to cope with stress or uncomfortable feelings, their children learn this. Not all children of addicted parents will come to abuse substances, but it is a common narrative.

There are many reasons for this, though, beyond simply learning the behavior. As these children are more likely to experience trauma, neglect, and abuse, they have the utmost need for coping skills to process these challenging experiences. Unfortunately, if their parents are in active addiction, it is unlikely that they develop healthy coping skills.

It is probable that these children will use Alcohol or drugs early in life. With little to no healthy coping skills, many of them will use substances out of desperation to deal with their trauma.

Unfortunately, when trauma is processed improperly in this way, it is likely to create Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that PTSD is a common underlying cause of addiction.

Alcohol and Childhood Trauma: Learning Destructive Coping Mechanisms at Such a Young Age

It is known that alcoholism often runs in the family. Parents who abuse Alcohol are prone to impulsive behavior, anger problems and depression. These attributes are also commonly observed in children of alcoholics.

Often, it is the children of alcoholics who take the brunt of that anger and abuse. If it isn’t anger, then it is often neglect. Even high functioning alcoholics who don’t display any of this must face the physical consequences of drinking. These may also be traumatic for children to witness.

It is easy for many of these children to start drinking at a young age, which increases their own likelihood of developing addiction.

ABT_Alcohol_child abuse
girl looking sad

The Violence and Neglect Children Witness with Parents Who have a Drug Addiction

The situation isn’t very different for the children of people who abuse drugs. Behavior patterns may vary depending on the drug, though impulsive behavior and mood fluctuation are consistent in all addiction. Many children are abandoned by their parents that are caught up in their active addiction. They would leave their children with relatives or neighbors for days to binge on drugs or alcohol.  

A parent who is taking Heroin, for example, may be more neglectful, sleeping most of the time, unreliable when it comes to taking or picking up their children from school. Someone addicted to Meth may experience psychosis that results in violent or scary behavior that can cause trauma. This trauma can be from physical abuse or witnessing domestic abuse.

Drug use is normalized to many of these children, as they observe it at home from a young age. Because of this, they are more likely to try drugs that other kids wouldn’t dream of, and at a younger age.

Achieving Your Version of Success After Drug and Alcohol Treatment: Getting Your Child Back From CPS

Getting custody back once you are sober can be a long and challenging road. Don’t give up hope, though, it is possible if you put in effort and time. First, get some legal advice; you probably qualify for free legal aid.

To regain custody, you must prove to the court that you: have completed addiction treatment, are actively sustaining recovery and are not using Alcohol or drugs currently.

Based on the severity of your case and whether you were arrested or not, the time it takes to do this can vary. For some it may take years, while it could be a matter of months for others. There are many things you can do to help the process along.

Stay involved in the recovery community by going to regular meetings and other events. Attend counseling sessions or take a class on parenting. Keep a consistent job and maintain your financial responsibilities. Keep your home in a condition that would be suitable for a child: clean and safe.

Make sure you document everything you do. Save every form or report, and take photographs of every step even if it seems small. With the right perseverance, you will be reunited before you know it.

What Can I do to Get My Children Back?

We understand how difficult it can be to be in a situation where CPS is intervening, taking, or wanting to take your children. We have helped patients get through situations just like this and have witnessed the mothers and fathers in our treatment programs reunite with their children after meeting the requirements of CPS.

If you are in a situation where you are being investigated by CPS or have had your children taken, we can help you. We can connect you with a treatment center that will admit you and communicate with CPS. A drug and alcohol rehab will be by your side through the entire CPS case process and be in contact directly with CPS case managers, giving them updates on the status of your progress. Staff can accompany you to any court dates or hearings and ensure that you have all the support you need.

Proving your willingness to do the right thing for your children is very important. The healing journey starts today. Let us help you take back control of your life.

If you are being investigated by CPS, DCF, or DSS time is critical. Get the help you need now and be the parent you were meant to be. Click to Call!

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When it Comes to Getting Your Children Back, Reliable Resources Matter

We understand just how important it is to use reputable sources when providing education about getting treatment for addictions and how to refrain from relapse in their journey through recovery. To get control of this disease you must build a strong foundation of knowledge from the beginning. Therefore, we have crafted all our information, statistics, treatment modalities, and practices on reliable resources.

Below are the sources we used to develop the content on our website and all written materials. We will continue to try to provide you with reputable sources that are up to date and relevant.

Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice. Social work in public health, 28(3-4), 194-205.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2014). Parental substance use and the child welfare system. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

Store.samhsa.gov. (2019). Substance Abuse Treatment for Persons With Child Abuse and Neglect Issues | SAMHSA Publications. [online] Available at: https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Substance-Abuse-Treatment-for-Persons-With-Child-Abuse-and-Neglect-Issues/SMA15-3605[Accessed 15 Feb. 2019].