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What It Is

START pairs child protective services (CPS) workers trained in family engagement with family mentors (peer support employees in long-term recovery) using a system-of-care and team decision-making approach with families, treatment providers, and the courts. 

Essential elements of the model include quick entry into START services to safely maintain child placement in the home when possible and rapid access to intensive addiction/mental health assessment and treatment. 

Each START CPS worker-mentor dyad has a capped caseload, allowing the team to work intensively with families, engage them in individualized wrap-around services, and identify natural supports with goals of child safety, permanency, and parental sobriety and capacity. 

Program Goals

The goals of Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) are: 

  • Ensure child safety
  • Reduce entry into out-of-home care, keeping children in the home with the parent when safe and possible
  • Achieve child permanency within the Adoptions and Safe Families Act (ASFA) timeframes, preferably with one or both parents or, if that is not possible, with a relative
  • Achieve parental sobriety in time to meet ASFA permanency timeframes
  • Improve parental capacity to care for children and to engage in essential life tasks
  • Reduce repeat maltreatment and re-entry into out-of-home care
  • Expand behavioral health system quality of care and service capacity as needed to effectively serve families with parental substance use and child maltreatment issues
  • Improve collaboration and the system of service delivery between child welfare and mental health treatment providers

Target Population

Families with at least one child under 6 years of age who are in the child welfare system and have a parent whose substance use is determined to be a primary child safety risk factor.


  • Women in START have higher rates of sobriety than their non-START child welfare-involved counterparts (66% vs. 36%).
  • Children in START are 50% less likely to enter out-of-home placements than children from a matched comparison group.
  • At case closure, over 75% of children served by START remained with or were reunified with their parent(s).
  • For every $1 spent on START, $2.22 is saved on out-of-home placement costs.

START is also recognized on the California Evidence Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) as a program with promising research evidence.