Parental substance use (PSU) is a factor in many child welfare cases; however, little is known about how child welfare agencies and their workers make the case to juvenile or family courts that PSU-related acts and omissions are harmful to children. This qualitative data-mining study explores the ways in which child welfare workers draw on child maltreatment statutes, risk assessment tools, and practice guidelines to frame evidence and make the case that PSU is harmful or poses a substantial risk of harm to children. Narrative data were extracted from child welfare court reports located in electronic case records from two California counties. Analysis revealed that workers cited multiple sources and types of evidence to make the case that, due to substance use, parents had failed to protect their children from harm or risk of harm and/or had failed to provide for their children's basic needs. Moreover, workers noted that these failures constituted neglect under California law. In addition, similarities and differences emerged within and across counties in how workers made the case that children were in need of protection,which suggested that state and local policy-practice guidelines influenced the structure of court reports and arguments made for state intervention. Implications for policy and practice are discussed and recommendations for future research are identified.
October 1, 2018