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Supporting Alternative Family Structures Impacted by Substance Use Disorders

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2021
6 pages

This report provides guidance for those serving children and caregivers in “nontraditional family structures,” which refers to “households in which relatives (or family friends) other than the original parents have the primary responsibility of raising the children temporarily or long term.”


In such households, unofficial custody of the children is often due to substance use disorders of the original parents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of children living in a grandparent-headed household increased from 3 percent in 1970 to 6 percent in 2012. This increase has occurred in states most heavily impacted by the opioid epidemic. Children in kinship or foster care, especially those whose biological parents have substance-use disorders (SUDs), experience disproportionately high health, legal, financial, school-based, and social outcomes. This report provides guidance in working with schools to support children and caregivers impacted by SUD, working with social services to support children and caregivers impacted by SUD, and working with public and behavioral health departments to support children and caregivers impacted by SUD. A separate section of the report discusses partnership and sustainability as a critical component for success in each of the aforementioned domains. This training and technical assistance material is provided under the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA’s) Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program (COSSAP).