Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name



Social Work

First Advisor

Poco D. Kernsmith


Child welfare worker routinely screen for domestic violence and parental substance misuse given their association with child maltreatment and poorer foster care outcomes such as lower rates of family reunification and higher rates of system reentry. Although childhood exposure to either domestic violence or parental substance misuse in and of itself does not constitute maltreatment in most child welfare systems, workers may consider these factors in their decision-making and service planning when identified. A set of three studies are therefore presented here that sought to determine the impact of caseworker-identified domestic violence and substance misuse on decision-making and service planning using large-scale administrative child welfare records. The first study examined 506,628 allegations of maltreatment unrelated to domestic violence or parental substance misuse and found that identification of either or both of these factors during routine risk assessment considerably increased the probability that an allegation would be substantiated. The second study drew on data from 42,696 protective services investigations in which maltreatment was substantiated to assess the differential impact of domestic violence and parental substance misuse on caseworkers’ overall determination of a child’s future risk of harm when considered as general risk factors versus direct contributors to abuse or neglect. Identification of domestic violence and/or substance misuse as risk factors significantly increased the likelihood that a caseworker would perceive a high level of risk for future harm, while attribution of maltreatment to domestic violence was associated with a lower probability that risk would be perceived as high. The third study examined the correlates of a co-occurring need for domestic violence services among a sample of 2231 child-welfare involved parents with an identified substance use disorder. Correlates varied by gender, but an additional need for mental health services was the strongest predictor of co-occurrence for both mothers and fathers. Finally, the implications of these findings for policy and practice are considered along with directions for future research.