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Drug Testing in Child Welfare

Drug testing is one tool that child welfare workers often use to facilitate decision-making with families affected by substance use disorders. Child welfare workers use test results to make informed decisions regarding child removal, family support services, family reunification, or termination of parental rights. Drug testing refers to the use of various biologic sources such as urine, saliva, sweat, hair, breath, blood and meconium to determine the presence of specific substances and/or their metabolites in an individual’s system. However, limited information has been available to child welfare workers, judges, and attorneys on the utility of drug testing and how to correctly interpret the results in the context of child welfare practice. A drug test alone cannot determine the existence or absence of a substance use disorder. In addition, drug tests do not provide sufficient information for substantiating allegations of child abuse or neglect or for making decisions about the disposition of a case (including decisions regarding child removal, family reunification, or termination of parental rights).

Prior to developing practice and policy tools on drug testing, it is important for child welfare policymakers to establish a partnership with their local substance abuse treatment agency staff that can assist in the decision making that is critical to successful implementation of the policies.

Policy and Practice Resources

Cover page of a guidebook Drug Testing in Child Welfare: Practice and Policy Considerations (PDF 92 KB)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2010 (SMA) 10-4556
This document guides child welfare agency policymakers in developing practice and policy protocols regarding the use of drug testing in child welfare practice. This guidance describes the practice and policy issues that policymakers must address to include drug testing in the comprehensive assessment and monitoring that child welfare agencies provide.

This publication may be downloaded or ordered at the SAMHSA publication store. Or call SAMHSA’s Health Information Network at 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727). In addition, this publication can be ordered from the Child Welfare Information Gateway at 1-800-394-3366.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Federal Register whereby the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established standards for determining the validity of urine specimens collected under the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs.

  • Revisions Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs (effective 10/1/2010)
    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Final Notice of Revisions to the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs (Revisions to Mandatory Guidelines) addresses collection and testing of urine specimens, the requirements for the certification of Instrumented Initial Test Facilities, and the role of and standards for collectors and Medical Review Officers.

Drug Testing: A White Paper of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) (PDF 838 KB)
American Society of Addiction Medicine. October 2013
Recognizing that drug testing is vastly underutilized throughout health care, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the nation's largest organization of physicians specializing in the prevention and treatment of addiction, has produced this White Paper to highlight the wide range of applications in which drug testing can promote prevention, early detection, and lifelong recovery from addiction in the interests of individual and public health. This paper describes the uses of drug testing as a primary prevention, diagnostic, and monitoring tool to identify the presence or absence of drugs of abuse or therapeutic agents related to addiction management in multiple settings.

Making your Workplace Drug-Free: A Kit for Employers
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. March 2008
The purpose of this Drug-Free Workplace Kit is to provide public and private workplaces, from small to large and from local to global, with credible, authoritative, evidence-based information, resources, and tools for producing and maintaining drug-free workplace policies and programs.

Drug Testing in a Drug Court Environment: Common Issues to Address
US Dept of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Drug Courts Program Office
This paper addresses the most frequent issues associated with drug testing in drug court programs; it provides an overview for drug court program officials regarding the most critical topics related to the development and maintenance of a drug testing capability.

Integrating Drug Testing Into a Pretrial Services System: 1999 Update
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance
This report describes how to integrate drug testing into a jurisdiction's pretrial services program, based on the experiences of Federal and local pilot and demonstration pretrial drug testing sites; the discussion focuses on operational, management, and legal issues.

Screening and Assessment for Family Engagement, Retention, and Recovery (SAFERR) (PDF 3.03 MB)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2007 Publication No. (SMA) 07-4261
Provides information about how the child welfare system, substance abuse treatment providers, and the courts can improve screening and assessment policies and protocols. This publication may be downloaded or ordered at the SAMHSA publication store. Or call SAMHSA’s Health Information Network at 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727). In addition, this publication can be ordered from the Child Welfare Information Gatewayat 1-800-394-3366.

State and Local Examples

Arizona Practice Guidelines for Utilizing Drug Testing (PDF 1.02 MB)
Arizona Department of Economic Security Child Protective Services
Guidelines provide information on situations in which drug testing is appropriate, types of testing and detection period by drug.

Drug Testing Considerations
NYC Partners for Families
Provides an overview of different type of drug testing and a chart on detection times for child welfare, substance abuse treatment and court professionals.

Sacramento County, CA Drug Testing Policy
Detailed description of the drug testing protocol that Sacramento County, California implemented, including the county’s decisions and agreements among the substance abuse, child welfare, and court agencies to use drug testing results most effectively and efficiently in conjunction with other behavioral signs and symptoms to monitor progress in treatment and family case plans.

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bullet arrow Drug Testing: Managing Resources for Better Outcome (PDF 755 KB)
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bullet arrow Drug Testing in Child Welfare: A Discussion of Practice and Policy Considerations (PDF 146 KB)
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