Child Welfare and Addiction in California

Do you think you might lose your kids? Here’s what California laws says about drinking or drug use…and how the child welfare system works.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: This article provides an overview of child welfare systems in California. It explains what happens when abuse or neglect are reported in conjunction with substance use.


If you’re drinking or using drugs, you can lose your kids.

Why Did They Take My Child?

If your child has been taken because you’re battling an alcohol or drug addiction, the state welfare system has intervened.In fact, kids are often placed out of the home in foster care in addiction cases.

You’re probably anxious…and maybe even a little angry. This article will explain the in’s and out’s of the state welfare system. We’ll look at the laws behind the actions. Then, we will take you through what happens step-by-step.

If you’re using around your kids…the state of California sees that as potential abuse or neglect.

Alcohol is a legal substance and drinking by itself is not considered child abuse. However, if drinking leads to abuse and neglect of your child, then your child may be taken from your home.Using illegal substances increases the chances of developing mental illness and makes the home a hazardous environment for the child. Also, it can lead to inability of providing proper care to your children.Specific circumstances that are considered “child abuse” or “neglect” in California include:

  • Using a controlled substance that impairs your ability to adequately care for a child.
  • Manufacture or possession of meth in the presence of a child. This is a felony.

If you have been reported on suspicion of child neglect, Child Protection Services will show up at your door. It is important to cooperate and show willingness to change.

So, what happens next?

If you suspect child abuse you can call Child Protective Services.

Who Reported Me?

Anyone can report suspicion of child abuse or neglect.

People call a hotline number or the office of Child Protection Services and leave a report. The phone line is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All states in the U.S. specify how reports must be made. Most require an immediate oral (spoken) report, and many now have toll-free telephone numbers to facilitate reporting.

If you suspect child abuse you can call Child Protective Services. Here’s a list of Child Protection Services in California by county.

However,some people MUST report problem drinking or drug use. Specifically, the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, or California Penal Code §§ 11164- 11174.3, identifies certain professionally certified positions as Mandated Reporters [1]. These professionals are obliged to report any suspected case of child abuse and neglect immediately after receiving information. Mandated Reporters followed up an oral report in writing.

California law currently requires mandatory reporters to provide their names and contact information. However, reports are confidential; reporters have immunity from prosecution.People from these professions are strongly encouraged to take a training. You can find the course from Cal State here. [2]

The list of Mandated Reporters in California include:

  • Animal control or humane society officers
  • Athletic coaches, athletic administrators, or athletic directors
  • Attorneys
  • Child visitation monitors
  • Clergy
  • Community care or child daycare facilities administrators and staff
  • Coroners and medical examiners
  • Court-appointed special advocates
  • Day camps, youth centers, or youth recreation programs administrators and staff
  • Employees of police departments, county sheriff’s departments, county probation departments, or county welfare departments
  • Employees or administrators of public or private post secondary institutions
  • Employees or volunteers of a court-appointed special advocate program
  • Film processors and computer technicians
  • Firefighters
  • Foster parents, group home, and residential care staff
  • Investigators or child support agency caseworkers
  • Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, dentists, marriage and family therapists
  • Public assistance workers
  • School district police or security department’s staff
  • School teachers, both public and private
  • Social workers, probation,and parole officers
  • State or county public health employees
  • Substance abuse counselors

Attachment E is the California Department of Justice form for use by Mandated Reporters to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Known as Form SS 8572, it is available online. Instructions for completing the form are also available online.

Other state agencies that can accept reports of child abuse or neglect include:

  1. Child Protective Services (by county)
  2. Sheriffs’ Departments (by county)
  3. California State University Police Departments (by campus)

To get your kids back, comply with Juvenile Dependency Court suggestions.

What Happens When I’m Reported

How the case unfolds depends on the severity of the case and all the circumstances surrounding it. The investigation typically starts within 24 hours of the initial report, unless it is determined that the child is in danger. In these cases, an immediate action is taken in which case your child may be taken into custody of the state right away.In these cases, the law enforcement agency is also contacted.

Investigations by the child welfare agency and law enforcement are conducted separately. If there is no apparent emergency, Child Protection Services has to respond within 10 days to begin full investigations.These are the steps taken after a report has been filed:


The local county Emergency Response Hotline receives a call from a mandated reporters or other concerned individual.


Each referral is processed by a social worker using the Standardized Safety Assessment tool to complete risk assessment and determine if there is enough information to start an investigation.

This can include a review of:

  • Abuse/neglect frequency
  • Allegation of substance abuse
  • Child’s age and disability
  • Criminal history
  • Domestic violence history
  • Previous reports
  • Psychiatric history
  • Unrelated people in the home
  • When the event took place


If there is enough information, the social worker in charge of the investigation will come to your home. S/H will have conversations with you, your family, the child, and any relevant witnesses, teachers, or relatives. The social worker will probably interview your child alone and record the conversation.


Medical and psychological examinations of the child may be needed in order to determine the validity of the report.


Child Protection Services decide if there is a sufficient evidence for a case to be opened or not [3]. The findings are ruled as either:

Unfounded. The report was determined to be false or improbable.

Substantiated. It is likely that the abuse occurred and the case goes to court.

Inconclusive. The report is not unfounded but the findings are inconclusive and there is not enough evidence of abuse.

Addiction treatment helps heal families.

What Happens Next?

If Child Protective Services is investigating you and determines that there’s been child abuse due to substance abuse,a case will be opened against you. You have a right to:

  • An interpreter.
  • A lawyer.
  • Know what to do to get your child back.
  • To go to court.

All decisions are made in accordance with the “Child’s Best Interest” policy. Therefore, the case can fall into one of three categories:


This category means that the drinking or drug use was a one-time incident and there is no or low risk for the child’s safety. However, it may be determined that the family is at risk and needs some kind of community support, in which case it is referred to Community Partners. These services can include:

  • Assistance in obtaining medical care
  • Counseling
  • Emergency shelter
  • Referrals to self-help groups
  • Transportation or a temporary in-home caretaker


In these cases, the family is referred to community-based child welfare services and is willing to make the necessary changes.


In high risk cases, abuse and neglect is confirmed and immediate action is taken to protect the child’s safety. The child is both removed from home and placed in a foster home, and this can be done without the family approval. A Safety Plan is created to work with the family for removing the threats to the child.

Child Welfare laws exist to protect children…sometimes from their parents.

Child Welfare Laws

You may be surprised to learn that the child welfare system has the right to take your child away from you, without your consent. Here are some of the laws in place in California that describe processes and procedures to help keep kids safe from drinking or drug using parents.

1. Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)

This is the key federal legislation addressing child abuse and neglect.

2.Welfare & Institutional Code § 300

This code sets up the jurisdiction of the juvenile court which can legally declare kids to be dependents of the court. This includes if a child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm or illness, as a result of the inability of the parent or guardian to provide regular care for the child due to the parent’s or guardian’s mental illness, developmental disability, or substance abuse.

3. Penal Code § 11165.13

This law outlines how to report drinking or drug use and to whom. It also states that a positive toxicology screen at the time of the delivery of an infant is not in and of itself a sufficient basis for reporting child abuse or neglect. However, any indication of maternal substance abuse shall lead to an assessment of the needs of the mother and child.

4. Health & Safety Code § 11379.7

This law outlines sentencing for people who manufacture or sell controlled substances around children under the age of 16.

5. Child Welfare Services Improvement and Innovations Act (PL-112- 34)

This law promotes coordinated health care services, educational stability, sibling visitation, and revised requirements for completion of monthly case worker visits.

6. Federal Adoptions and Safe Families Act (PL 105-89)

7.Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act [11164 – 11174.3]

As described earlier, this law outlines who is required to reports instances or suspicion of child abuse within the State of California.

Willingness to go to rehab is a big first step.

The Courts that are In Charge

Trial or superior courts handle all family cases in California.California has 58 superior courts, one in each county. Find a complete list with addresses and phone numbers for California’s Superior Courts here.

However, a special division handling child abuse and neglect cases may take over cases within the system. This court is called is the Juvenile Dependency Court [4].

So, what happens in the legal system next?

If the report is deemed substantiated and your child has been taken away, this will follow:

1. Within two court days a dependency petition is filed,requesting the court to open a case and take the child under its protection. If the social worker takes your child from your care, s/he can place the child with the other parent (if you are separated), with a relative, or in a foster home.

2. A detention hearing is held to approve the removal from the home.

3. The jurisdictional hearing is held to determine abuse or neglect as stated in the petition.

4. A dispositional hearing is held to determine what will happen to the child. The court may order family maintenance or family reunification services.

5. Review hearings are held every 6 months to see how are the child and family doing.

6. Permanency planning hearing is scheduled to determine long-term plan for the child: foster care, guardianship, adoption, in case reunification efforts fail.

Going to rehab can ensure a safe life for you and your kids.

What Happens to Parents

You will be offered a chance to change the things that caused your child to be taken away from you. These are called “reunification requirements” and include:

  • Counseling
  • Parenting classes
  • Substance abuse treatment

Remember that you have a limited time to finish all the courts’ requirements. If you fail to successfully finish treatment programs, you are less likely to be reunited with your children.

What Happens to Children

California state policy involving child cases follows the legal standard known as “The Best Interest of the Child”.Depending on the severity of the case and their need, children:

  • May be placed with the other parent, if you are separated or divorced
  • May be placed with relatives
  • May be placed in a foster or group home

The court will order that the parents and the child protection agency work together to reunite the family as quickly as possible. Court hearings are held at least every six months if a child is removed from the home to make sure that efforts are being made to bring the child safely back home. The hearings may be held more often if needed.

Call us to learn more about proper treatment for addiction.

What Happens if I Drink or Use?

If you continue to drink or use drugs, you can lose permanent custody of your children. If you are unable to stay clean and sober, the Juvenile Dependent Court will determine a long-term plan for your kids. This can include:

  • Adoption
  • Foster care
  • Guardianship

Don’t risk losing your kids. Rehab can help. Call us today.

Can I Get My Child Back?


If you follow the court’s orders and show willingness to change…you can be reunited with your children.In California, you’ll be given the opportunity to attend review hearings with the Juvenile Dependency Court. At these hearings, you’ll talk about your personal growth and support. You can show evidence of change by testing negative on drug tests. And, you can demonstrated your ability to care for your children through compliance with court orders.

The system has been created so that reunification between parents and kids is preferred! As long as you are a responsible, drug-free parent…you can be with your kids again.

Successfully finishing a rehab program can bring you closer to reuniting with your child and you family. Call us to learn more about rehab in California. Our compassionate operators understand addiction. They can talk you through the treatment process.

Got more questions?

Please leave your questions about child welfare and addiction in California at the end. We try to respond to all real life questions with a personal and prompt response.

Reference Sources: [1] California Penal Code §§ 11164- 11174.3
[2] Cal State: Mandatory Reporters Course
[3] California Law: Neglect and Abuse Reporting Act
[4] State Appointed Lawyer Information
[5] California State: Juvenile Dependency Court and You
UCSF: Child Abuse
CIBHS: Overview for county presentations
Child Safety planning and child protection
Child Abuse Reporting
L.A. County: Child Abuse Reporting Doc
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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