Strengthening Families

At the Drug Policy Alliance we are committed to ending the drug war’s assault on families.

One out of every 14 children in this country has had a parent imprisoned. This is in large part due to the mass incarceration of people convicted of drug law violations. Even parents who avoid criminal punishment for drug use risk losing custody of their children. Almost 31% of all children placed in foster care in 2012 were removed from their homes because of “parental alcohol or drug use.” In several states that percentage surpassed 60%.

Current practices in the child welfare and family court systems make many families feel frightened and ashamed rather than supported. Punitive approaches have been shown to disproportionately impact low-income families and communities of color. 

Supporting Children, Parents, and Communities

DPA believes that effective drug policy reform must include reform of child welfare policy and practice.We advocate for humane policies that protect the health, safety and rights of children and families. We fight against policies and practices that contribute to the mass criminalization of people based on their race, class and gender identities.

DPA champions the following principles when it comes to child welfare:

  • The ideal way to support the best interests of children is to keep families intact, while providing adequate supportive resources to caregiver(s). Child welfare policy should reduce punitive practices, prioritize family preservation and extend more rights and protections to parents.
  • Drug consumption or exposure alone is not child abuse or neglect. Non-problematic drug use and parenting can co-exist.
  • When problematic parental drug use is an issue, the state should take into consideration the potential harms of investigations and interventions. Those harms should be mitigated whenever possible and not cause more harm to the family than the drug use itself.
  • The positioning of physicians and other health care providers as mandated reporters can prevent pregnant and postpartum parents from seeking appropriate care. Decisions related to the health of a parent and child should be confidential and free from the threat of criminal action. Parental and fetal health are better served by making prenatal care a welcoming service. This includes offering non-judgmental, non-stigmatizing conversations about drug use and making drug treatment available if needed.
  • Parents struggling with problematic substance use can recover. Recovery is best facilitated with adequate time and supportive resources promoting family unity.
  • Holistic, community-based treatment models for parents with problematic substance use should be a priority for child welfare systems. Treatment should include wraparound care, which is a structured, individualized, team-based approach to coordinating services for people with complex needs.

DPA’s Work

DPA’s Colorado office has co-founded the Colorado Coalition to Protect Children and Family Rights.

DPA’s New York Policy Office has been organizing with parents and children impacted by child welfare services because of drug use.

DPA has represented leading medical and public health organizations in amicus briefs in state and federal cases opposing the criminalization of drug use during pregnancy.

Grieving Parents and Families Who Have Lost Loved Ones to Addiction and Overdose Come Together to Find Healing and Support

Thursday to Saturday: 3rd Biannual GRASP Retreat and Conference in Atlanta to Provide Support and Advocacy Training for Those Working to Reduce Overdose and Reform Drug Laws

47,000 Americans Died from an Overdose in 2014 More than from Either Car Crashes or Guns

There has been an explosion of overdose deaths throughout the country, with 47,000 Americans dying from an overdose in 2014 more than from either car crashes or guns. One hundred people who have felt the pain of losing a loved one to overdose and addiction will gather in Atlanta this week to heal, support and become stronger harm reduction advocates.


Denise Cullen 714-865-7879,

Marijuana Legalization: How Parents Can Keep Teens Safe in New Drug Landscape

New Bilingual Editions of Seminal Safety First Publication Offer Pragmatic Drug Education Strategies, with New Sections on Adolescent Brain Development and Marijuana Legalization

Teleconference Thursday (1pm EST/10am PST) with Safety First Author Marsha Rosenbaum

Marijuana legalization is raising fresh questions – and many age-old ones – for parents and others who play important roles in the lives of teenagers.

Contact: Tony Newman (646-335-5384)

Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work

September 8, 2014
Global Commission on Drug Policy

This report reflects a new evolution in the thinking of the Global Commission, which includes Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, and the former presidents of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Switzerland. They not only reiterate their demands for decriminalization, alternatives to incarceration, and greater emphasis on public health approaches – but now also call for responsible legal regulation of currently-illegal drugs.

Protect the Kids: End the Drug War

80 Organizations Come Together To Highlight Plight of The Drug War’s Youngest Victims At Home and Abroad

Broad Coalition Comprised of Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Immigration, Racial Justice, Human Rights Organizations

A diverse coalition of more than 80 civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations are joined by notable figures such as Michelle Alexander in calling for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting children both in Latin America and here in the United States. The supporters of the letter – which include the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Center for Constitutional Rights, Institute of the Black World,, Students for Liberty, United We Dream, William C.

Contact: Hannah Hetzer (917) 701-7060 or Jeronimo Saldana (562) 644-8413

80 Organizations Call for an End to the Drug War in Order to Protect Children

July 31, 2014

This letter, signed by civil rights, immigration, criminal justice, racial justice, human rights, libertarian and religious organizations, calls for an end to the war on drugs in the name of protecting children both in Latin America and the United States.

Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice

The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice advocates for needed reforms to the criminal justice system.

Riverside County School Districts Letter

March 17, 2014

To highlight the atrocities that have gone on in Riverside County high schools and hopefully prevent future ones, the Drug Policy Alliance sent this letter to 20 school district superintendents in Riverside County urging them not to allow undercover law enforcement operations on their campuses.  Such operations are ineffective at combating drug availability on campus and worse, they inflict irreparable harm on young people struggling with the challenges of adolescence or special needs.  The letter also informed schools about the potential legal liability for allowing such operatio

Stigma and People Who Use Drugs

March 3, 2014

There is an extensive body of literature documenting the stigma associated with alcohol and other drug problems. No physical or psychiatric condition is more associated with social disapproval and discrimination than substance dependence. For people who use drugs, or are recovering from problematic drug use, stigma can be a barrier to a wide range of opportunities and rights.

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