Childhood high betrayal trauma (HBT; a high degree of closeness and dependency between a victim and perpetrator) and parental substance use disorder (SUD) are both associated with consequences negatively influencing reunification success among child welfare-involved families. HBT abuse may have a particularly grievous impact on children when it is attributed to a parent (BT-parent) than to someone else (BT-non-parent). We compare effects of BT-parent versus BT-non-parent abuse on reunification outcomes, and how parental SUD influences these relationships.
Using data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Dataset and the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis System, we analyzed reunification outcomes of 19,882 children in foster care between 2015 and 2019 who experienced physical or sexual abuse and had data listed on perpetrator identity. Survival analyses revealed relationships between BT-parent and BT-non-parent abuse with and without accompanying parental SUD, and reunification, while adjusting for additional relevant factors.
Parental SUD strongly and more negatively influenced reunification than distinctions between BT-parent and BT-non-parent abuse. When combined, children experiencing BT-parent abuse and parental SUD (21.43%) had lower hazards of reunification (HR = 0.73, p < .001) than those experiencing BT-parent abuse without parental SUD (48.61%), and also compared to those experiencing BT-non-parent abuse without parental SUD (22.90%; HR = 0.72, p < .001).
Parental SUD strongly influences reunification, and successful outcomes are attenuated when betrayal trauma is combined with parental SUD, compared to when only parental SUD, BT-parent, or BT-non-parent abuse are present. Future studies should focus on whether relationships between HBT and parental SUD impact placement disruption and reunification success.