Melissa Wilkinson


The Intersectionality of Maternal Substance Usage, the Inequitable Distribution of Social Resources, and the Child Welfare System


The involuntary involvement of substance-using mothers and their substance-affected families with the child welfare system has allowed for the systematic traumatization and destruction of substance-affected families. Once involved with the child welfare system, the inequitable distribution of social resources, oppressive practices, and biased perceptions have further compounded the challenges faced by substance-affected families. Understanding the intimate and complex relationship that exists between substance-using mothers, their substance-affected families, social resource equity, and the child welfare system is critical to overcoming child welfare’s reactive and punitive practices. This presentation will explore the punitive evolution of our current child welfare system, as well as the historical origins of invidious social resource distribution. Participants will gain insight into how the inequitable distribution of social resources exacerbates the consequences faced by substance-using mothers and their substance-affected families. By illuminating the connections between the child welfare system, the inequitable distribution of social resources, and substance-affected families, the aim is to catalyze a shift in child welfare -from reactive and punitive practices and beliefs to proactive and preservation policies and practices. The intent of this presentation is to empower change and growth throughout the entirety of the child welfare system, thus creating a more just and inclusive approach to serving and supporting substance-affected families involved with the child welfare system.


Melissa Wilkinson is a veteran child welfare worker in the State of Missouri, with more than fourteen years of field experience. Melissa is also a first-generation graduate student. Melissa’s formal education includes earning her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Lincoln University in 2010, and her Master of Social Work from the University of Kentucky in 2023, and she is currently on track to complete her Doctor of Social Work (DSW) in May of 2024. Melissa was one of three graduate students selected for University of Kentucky’s Master of Social Work to Doctor of Social Work bridge program, a competitive program providing her with the opportunity to simultaneously work towards her Masters and Doctor of Social Work.

Melissa has allowed her experience as a veteran child welfare worker to influence her academic research by exploring how the inequitable distribution of social resources promotes the cyclical relationship between substance-using mothers and the child welfare system. In addition to identifying social resource disparities, Melissa also recognizes the importance of eradicating the stigmas and biases surrounding substance usage to improve the well-being of children and the preservation of their substance-affected families. Melissa has acquired an array of experience in working with children, teens, families, substance-using mothers, substance-affected families, and various service providers. Melissa believes social workers are in the unique position to be leaders in finding solutions to the divisions that exist between people. This journey has allowed her to identify gaps in research, knowledge, and programming and to suggest the development of a holistic framework that would simultaneously increase cross-s.