Date of Award

Summer 7-28-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Daniel J. Whitaker, PhD

Second Advisor

Wendy P. Guastaferro, PhD


Background: Parental substance use puts children at risk for poor outcomes. Estimates indicate that 66% of substantiated cases of maltreatment are of parents with substance use disorders (SUD). Some parents with SUD have the opportunity to be treated through two accountability courts including Drug Courts (DC) and family treatment courts (FTC). Purpose: Little is known about the children of parents who participate in treatment through DC’s via the criminal justice system. This study examined differences in parents and their children who receive treatment through FTC’s and DC’s with the notion that DC’s could serve as an important treatment venue for improving child outcomes, which is a major focus of FTCs. Methods: The data used for these analyses are the baseline data of a quasi-experimental study involving two DC’s and two FTC’s across Georgia. The intervention included the implementation of evidence-based parenting and trauma services at one drug court and at one family treatment court, while the other courts served as controls. At each court, participants, one other caregiver, and one child were invited to participate in the project by completing an annual assessment. This included computerized surveys and a videotaped play and talking activity with each adult with the child. Measures included demographics, parenting behaviors, mental health measures, social support, and child mental health measures. All data used in the analyses were collected at baseline and thus prior to intervention. Participants were 80 DC triads and 25 FTC triads (DCP, another caregiver, and child). Results: Compared to DC, FTC clients were more likely to be female (p = p = p =.014). They also had younger children (p = .05) and were more likely to have custody of those children (p =.0015). Parents in FTCs compared to those in DC reported greater social support (p =.05) and better family functioning (p =.03). Parents in DCs reported poorer parental involvement and poorer monitoring of children than FTCs, but no differences in positive parenting (p =.13), inconsistent discipline (p =.27), or child abuse potential (total risk > 9, p =.42; total risk >12, p =.37). Regarding mental health, DC clients reported a greater number of symptoms or poor mental health than FTC. No differences were found for education level (p =.96), parent-child communication skills (p =.38), post-traumatic stress symptom severity (p =.62), or child behavior problems. Conclusion: These data show some differences between FTC participants and DC participants that can affect child outcomes. FTC parents were more involved in their children’s lives and DC parents had greater mental health problems that could interfere with parenting. Interventions are needed, especially for DC client to strengthen the parent-child relationship and improve parenting outcomes.