• Linda Wermeling Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, United States, United States



social work, substance abuse, child welfare, caretakers.


American Child welfare staff has long recognized that substance abuse is common in families they serve. The unanswered questions are how well do child welfare social workers identify substance abuse in caretakers; and, what client and agency variables complicate this assessment? Chaos theory has much to offer social work in dealing with the uncertainty and complexity that characterize families who experience child abuse, neglect, and substance abuse. This exploratory study analyzed the National Study of Protective, Preventive and Reunification Services Delivered to Children and Their Families dataset. This dataset was a national sample of 2,109 opened child welfare cases (National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect). Caretakers included birth mothers and fathers, stepparents, extended family members; such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and adoptive parents. Analysis explored the frequency of abuse and neglect substantiation, mental health problems and substance abuse problems identified by caseworkers. Three multivariate logistic regression models were developed to predict whether independent variables were associated with; the dichotomous dependent variable was identified caretaker substance abuse. Twenty-nine percent of caretakers were identified as substance abusers. This study found child welfare cases with identified substance abuse were significantly more chaotic than other families. Identified caretakers’ problems were twice that of non-identified caretakers. Substance abusing cases are opened more than twice the number of years and have twice as many caseworkers. This study found that neglect cases are fifty percent less likely to be identified and abandonment are more than ninety percent less likely to be identified.

Author Biography

Linda Wermeling, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, United States

Associate professor, Department of Counseling, Social Work, and Leadership


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