Civil Child Welfare Cases and Issues

Drug use, real and merely alleged, has increasingly become a basis for child welfare interventions against poor families. NAPW has been contacted by families and child welfare attorneys from New York to California, distraught by the abuses of child welfare authorities willing to remove children from their families, but not willing to learn about drug use, addiction, treatment and family rehabilitation. For example, in California, a woman had her newborn taken from her custody based on a positive drug test that resulted from a drug she was given during labor. In Connecticut, child welfare authorities removed a newborn from the mother and supportive extended family’s custody based on the claim that successful methadone treatment is a form of neglect. The state argued that a parent’s history of past drug use –and indeed any behavior/condition a pregnant woman experiences that may affect a child at birth –provides the basis for finding that a healthy child is uncared for (civilly neglected).

NAPW believes that a major national initiative is needed to address the ways in which child welfare laws are being used to advance the war on drugs and undermine the rights and interests of pregnant women and families. Until we can develop the collaborations and funding to help make that happen, we will continue to work with such allies as the National Coalition on Child Protection Reform and legal services attorneys around the country struggling to ensure that children are not needlessly and traumatically removed from parents based on drug tests and prejudice rather than real evidence of an inability to parent.

Pregnant, Drug-Using Women, & State Child Welfare Policies

March 21, 2014

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March 23, 2009

At the request of activists in Tennessee, NAPW analyzed two 2009 bills in Tennessee concerning pregnant women. Pursuant to Tennessee bills SB1065 and HB0890, pregnant women who meet certain criteria would be tested for alcohol and drugs in order to encourage them to seek immediate treatment for an alcohol-related or drug- related problem. Our analysis of the bills makes clear that this legislation lacked foundation in evidence based research and would undermine, rather than promote maternal, fetal, and child health. It is our understanding that the bill was withdrawn in March of 2009.

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Gretchen Lord, MSW speaks About Sunset Park's Center for Family Life (audio)

March 19, 2009

Some people say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If this is insanity, then the Center for Family Life's work is the definition of sanity. This talk reflects the Center for Family Life's recognition that families and communities have joint responsibility for children, and describes the innovative, integrative, preventive and family support services they provide, and the work they do to support, nurture and preserve families within their community. We are very grateful to the Center for Family Life for giving us permission to post this lecture, given in 2000.

Listen to the talk online here (or right-click the link to download the audio mp3 file)

Feature: Methamphetamine as Child Abuse Laws Gain Ground, But Do They Help or Hurt?

July 18, 2006


When Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) signed a package of anti-methamphetamine measures into law last Thursday, Michigan became at least the sixth state to define either the use or the production of meth where children are present as child abuse. The trend is part of an all-out offensive against methamphetamine use and manufacture by law enforcement and child welfare agencies, but child protection critics and maternal rights advocates say it is a destructive and unnecessary response.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia define some drug use, distribution, or sales as child abuse or neglect. Among the various laws:

Blaming Pregnant Women, NAPW Commentary in

July 17, 2006

In a society that values children, it's striking how frequently our public policy falls short of our rhetoric. Too often, the notion of collective responsibility for the nation's children translates into collective demonization of pregnant women. Collective responsibility for our children should mean support for policies that help pregnant women get the care they need to have healthy babies. Instead, states and localities are increasingly blaming individual women, exaggerating the harms from individual behaviors.

In Arkansas' recent special spring session, Hot Springs Rep. Bob Mathis followed up his successful proposal to make it illegal for someone to smoke in a car with children with a proposal to ban pregnant women from smoking.

For those who subscribe to the view that pregnant women are vessels, treating them like cars makes perfect sense.

Family Preservation and Substance Abuse

March 23, 2006

The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform provides a fact sheet addressing pregnant and parenting drug using women. NCCPR states that "We favor providing Intensive Family Preservation Services to some families with substance abuse problems. But not because it's another chance for the parent. We favor such programs because they may be the only chance for the child." For the full fact sheet . . .

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Drug rehab for moms works when they stay with their kids

March 18, 2005

KICKING THE HABIT : Drug rehab for moms works when they stay with their kids. But we are still addicted to treatment that splits up families, by Nora McCarthy

This excellent article in City highlights an effective, nationally recognized program, called the Family Rehabilitation Program (FRP), which gives drug-addicted mothers treatment while their kids stay with them, instead of going into foster care. "This combination of treatment and nurturing makes FRPs surprisingly successful at keeping moms off drugs and kids out of care. A 1999 study by the National Drug Rehabilitation Institute found that FRPs had higher success rates than traditional treatment and that few children--less than 5 percent at one typical agency--ended up in foster care." While this program offers a significant model of success, the story reports that it "is still so tiny and obscure that many child protection workers have never heard of it."

Florida should take care of the children it already has

March 15, 2005

Tallahassee Democrat
Posted on Tue, Mar. 15, 2005

Florida should take care of the children it already has

By Lynn Paltrow

In early March, Gov. Jeb Bush and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings announced a plan to spend $4 million to finance a hot line that would counsel women with unwanted pregnancies to continue their pregnancies to term.

It is clear, however, that neither Bush nor Jennings is serious about reducing abortion rates. What they are serious about is keeping our attention focused on the abortion issue while they act like the proverbial deadbeat dad and welfare queen spending taxpayer dollars for their pet projects instead of on the children they already have.

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What's Wrong With Presuming Neglect of Drug Exposed Newborns?

February 21, 2001

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