Study: Recovery Coaches Reduce Number of Substance-Exposed Births

New research suggests that recovery coaches — caseworkers with special training in addiction, relapse prevention, case management and counseling — can cut the number of newborns exposed to alcohol or other drugs and can play an important role in reuniting families.

Researchers at the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois studied 931 women from the Chicago area who temporarily had lost child custody and were referred for alcohol and drug assessments due to chronic substance abuse.

During the five-year study, researchers randomly assigned families to either receive traditional child-welfare and substance-abuse services or traditional services plus the assistance of a recovery coach, whose focus was to place and keep mothers in treatment via hands-on engagement with the family and provider agencies.

The study showed that 15 percent of mothers assigned to the recovery-coach group had given birth to a substance-exposed infant, compared with 21 percent of mothers in the control group.

Recovery-coach group mothers also were more likely to use substance-abuse services, and were more likely to reunify their families. The researchers estimated that the state of Illinois saved $5.5 million in foster-care and other placement costs as a result of recovery-coach involvement.

“No single intervention is going to solve the complex array of problems that these families encounter,” said Joseph Ryan, lead author of the study. “But if we chip away at it … it produces gains for families and for the state.”

The study appeared in the November 2008 issue of the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.

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