Drug testing is just one tool used to guide case planning and permanency decisions with families affected by SUDs

The results of a single drug test cannot determine, or rule out, a SUD. While a series of tests can establish a pattern of use, they do not alone provide information on the severity of an individual’s substance use, the effects on parenting capacity, or an individual’s progress in recovery.

A drug test determines whether an individual has used a specific substance during a particular window of time. A positive result indicates a substance (or its metabolite) is present at or above the established concentration cutoff level in the test specimen. A negative result indicates the test did not detect the drug (or its metabolite), or that its concentration falls below the established cutoff level in that specimen. Test results only reveal those substances the test was designed to detect during a specified period.

Since drug testing results alone cannot identify a SUD, ensure child safety, or identify child safety concerns, child welfare workers must rely on other indicators to determine these factors. A worker should use all gathered information to determine if substance use exists, and whether it creates risk and safety concerns for a child. Information comes from the use of standardized screening tools and assessments, observations of the physical environment, behavioral indicators, and collateral details.

Drug testing can provide a chance to discuss a parent’s substance use and motivate them to follow their case plans and engage in treatment.

Test results provide an opportunity for child welfare workers and court professionals to engage parents and families in the treatment and recovery process. Sharing results provides an opportunity to have a conversation with parents that reduces overall shame and stigma. During this conversation, it is important to use “person-first” language and avoid labels.

When a drug test fails to detect any substances (negative result), it provides an opportunity for child welfare workers and court professionals to offer positive reinforcement, recognize the parent’s accomplishments, and offer continued support. Still, a drug test only determines whether a person has used a particular substance during a specific period of time. A negative result may indicate a parent is not currently using; however, it may also indicate that a parent is still actively using but did not engage in substance use within the specific detection window. In other words, a drug test alone cannot determine if a parent is abstinent or in recovery. Results are only one part of the ongoing assessment of a parent’s substance use.


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