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Child protection and mothers in substance abuse treatment

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NSW Department of Community Services - Research Grant

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image - 1314158062 Stephanie Taplin 010
Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin
Visiting Fellow

Overseas research has found that families where alcohol or other drug use is present are more likely to come to the attention of child protection services, more likely to be re-reported, more likely to have their children removed from their parents’ care, and more likely to have them remain in out-of-home care for long periods of time. Little research has focused on the reasons for this, however, and the appropriateness of the interventions provided to this population.

The Child protection and mothers in substance abuse treatment study is the first study to interview a relatively large sample of women in opioid pharmacological treatment in NSW about their children, parenting and child protection involvement, and aims to increase our knowledge and understanding of these complex issues.

Design and Method: 

171 women on the NSW Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) at nine sites throughout Sydney were recruited into the study between May 2009 and May 2010. The major selection criterion was that they had a birth child under the age of 16 years. Women were asked to complete a face-to-face interview about their own abuse, substance use and treatment histories, their demographic characteristics, children and parenting, and any parenting-related interventions, particularly those from child protection services. Administrative records for those women who consented were also accessed.


Just over one-third of the women were involved with child protection services at the time of interview, with one-third of their children (n = 99) in OOHC.

Women who were involved with child protection were compared with those who were not to determine the factors associated with child protection involvement. Logistic regression analysis revealed that those variables which significantly increased the likelihood of being involved with child protection (while controlling for the other variables) were: (1) having a greater number of children, (2) being on psychiatric medication, and (3) having less than daily contact with their own parents. Although women who had a more extensive substance use history were more likely to be involved with child protection (when no other factors were taken into account), this association was no longer significant in the logistic regression model.


Conference presentations

Taplin, S. & Mattick, R.P. (2010) Substance Use, Women and Parenting. Paper presented at Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) Conference, Sydney. 2-4 August 2010.

Taplin, S. & Mattick, R.P. (2010) Mothers in Pharmacological Treatment. Poster resented at National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) Annual Symposium. Sydney. 10 August 2010.

Taplin, S. & Mattick, R.P. (2010) Being a mother on the NSW Opioid Treatment Program. Paper presented at Creating Synergy Drug and Alcohol Conference, University of Wollongong, 4- 5 November 2010.

Taplin, S. & Mattick, R.P. (2010) Mothers in the NSW Opioid Treatment Program. Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs (APSAD) Conference, Canberra. 29 November – 1 December 2010.

Taplin, S. & Mattick, R.P. (2011) Child protection, children and mothers on methadone: results from a NSW study. Child protection in Australia and New Zealand – issues and challenges for judicial administration conference: 5-7 May 2011. Brisbane.


The results of this study are important for the child protection field. They show that, rather than severity of substance use being associated with mothers’ involvement with the child protection system, other factors are of greater importance. Of particular interest was the finding that having greater social support, particularly from parents, significantly reduced the likelihood of being involved with the child protection system. Women made great improvements while on their treatment program, particularly in relation to reduced substance use.

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