Journal Issue: Drug-Exposed Infants Volume 1 Number 1 Spring 1991
The following are the Center for the Future of Children staff recommendations for policy in response to the problem of drug-exposed infants. An analysis discussing these recommendations follows.
- Pregnant women should receive prenatal care and education about the risks of using drugs, alcohol, and/or tobacco during pregnancy.
- Drug treatment programs should be available for all drug-abusing pregnant women and parents of infants, and these programs should be responsive to other related needs of these families.
- An infant should be considered drug-exposed and in need of some level of intervention if the mother states she has used illegal drugs during pregnancy or if drug exposure is shown through urine or blood tests of the infant. Such tests should be administered only if there is a recent history of maternal drug use and/or medical conditions of the mother or infant indicate that testing is needed for diagnostic or treatment purposes.
- When an infant is identified as drug-exposed, the infant and his/her family should be assessed by health providers (with assistance when necessary from developmental, drug treatment, and other specialists) to determine what intervention, if any, is needed.
- Health and developmental services should be available to all identified drug-exposed infants as needed. Parenting education and other support services should be available to their parents as needed.
- An identified drug-exposed infant should be reported to child protective services only if factors in addition to prenatal drug exposure show that the infant is at risk for abuse or neglect.
- Barriers to child protective services' capacity to meet the requirements of current child welfare laws should be identified and removed. These barriers might include high caseloads, lack of drug treatment and support services for the families, backlogs in the courts, and inadequate numbers of foster or adoptive homes.
- A drug-exposed infant should be removed from the custody of his/her parent(s) only if the parent(s) are unable to protect and care for the infant and either support services are not sufficient to manage this risk or the parent(s) have refused such services. If the parent(s) are not capable of resuming custody of the infant within 12–18 months, despite receiving services to make reunification possible, a permanent, alternative placement should be promptly provided for the infant.
- A woman who uses illegal drugs during pregnancy should not be subject to special criminal prosecution on the basis of allegations that her illegal drug use harms the fetus. Nor should states adopt special civil commitment provisions for pregnant women who use drugs.
- Research should be supported to determine (a) the prevalence of illegal drug use among pregnant women, (b) the relationship between such use and birth and developmental outcomes, and (c) the effectiveness of drug treatment and intervention programs. Special focus should be given to evaluating drug treatment programs for pregnant women and parents with infants for their effectiveness in enabling participants to function as adequate caretakers of their children.