Drug use during pregnancy is the sort of hot-button issue that draws lawmakers' attention. Last session was no exception, with two bills presented during the session that would have allowed the state to use newborn infants who test positive for illegal drugs as legal evidence against their mothers.
Texans Care for Children successfully kept these bills from becoming law in 2009. Our first concern was for the vulnerable newborns. Promising to make a baby exhibit A against his or her mother encourages births to happen in secret. The difference for these children between a hospital birth and one in an unsafe environment truly can be life or death.
Maternal substance abuse poses dangers to babies, which is why the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services becomes involved when a baby is born with a drug addiction. However, hauling a vulnerable infant's mother to jail may not be in the child's best interest. Sometimes the appropriate child welfare response involves getting that family on a path toward treatment, support, and bonding, something perhaps incompatible with immediate retribution for violation of drug laws.
This month's joint meeting of the Texas CHIP Coalition and the Infant Health Alliance examined policy responses to maternal drug use during pregnancy and the early years of a child's life. You can find presentations and handouts from the meeting at this link. We welcome your thoughts, as well. What should Texas do when babies are born to mothers with substance abuse addictions?