States are Getting Tough with Coke Addicted Moms!

States are Getting Tough with Coke Addicted Moms!
Posted by FoM on December 29, 1998 at 09:14:50 PT

By Cheryl WetzsteinTHE WASHINGTON TIMESSome states are taking a harder line on America's cocaine-addicted mothers, who give birth to an estimated 124 babies every day.
Some of these babies begin life similarly addicted to cocaine and their suffering can stretch into years. These children are anomalies in a nation that cherishes motherhood and champions prenatal pampering, healthy diets and exercise for its mothers-to-be.   The nation has struggled with solutions for women who, as one advocate puts it, "poison" their unborn children with drugs and alcohol.   In most states, if a child is born drug or alcohol-exposed, the mothers are ordered into drug treatment, with the choice of shaking off their addictions or losing their parental rights.   Since 1985, more than 240 women in 35 states have been prosecuted for using illegal drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, legal experts say.   In South Carolina, for instance, mothers who use illegal drugs during pregnancy can be convicted of child abuse and sent to jail.   A host of legal, child-welfare and medical groups have denounced this trend toward "criminalization" of drug-abusing mothers.   Putting mothers in jail doesn't help the children or solve the addiction, said Mary Faith Marshall, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, at an August briefing sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Substance Abuse Policy Program.   Making doctors report their patients to the police disrupts the doctor-patient relationship and will encourage pregnant women to skip prenatal care or substance abuse treatment, she added.   Moreover, other experts say, "crack babies" are growing up with fewer problems than expected, so mothers shouldn't be punished severely.   Maureen Hogan, a leader of Adopt America, counters that the nation "isn't outraged enough" about prenatal child abuse, and that the South Carolina law rightfully sends the message that "poisoning" unborn children with drugs and alcohol is criminal behavior.   Drug-exposed children, Mrs. Hogan says, may appear to recover, but most of them have subtle problems that shadow them for the rest of their lives. She quoted a 16-year-old girl from foster care, who has been fighting to keep her life on track, as saying: "Tell them that I was born exposed to drugs and alcohol and it's ruined my life."   Parents should be helped, Mrs. Hogan concludes, "but not at the expense of their children."   The problem of substance-abusing mothers and their children is significant: The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that more than 1 million children a year are exposed to alcohol or drugs during pregnancy.   The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) says substance abuse is a major factor in the 3.1 million reports of child abuse and neglect in 1997 and is associated with two-thirds of the 500,000 to 600,000 children who spend time in the child welfare system each year.   The nation's most common remedy is to send these neglected or abused children into the care of relatives or a foster family; send the mothers (and fathers) into drug treatment; and assign family preservation workers to reunite the family.   Hannah House in the District of Columbia is a program that helps women get off drugs, prepare for work and become responsible enough to regain custody of their children.   "We teach the women how to be parents," said Diane Williams Hymons, executive director of the 20-year-old institution, which serves dozens of women each year on mostly private donations.   But addictions can be inescapable, and an estimated 100,000 children who are placed in foster care never go home. Instead, they are adopted or left in foster care.   Last year, the White House and Congress agreed that growing up in foster care was unacceptable, and they enacted pro-adoption legislation aimed at forcing courts to decide within 15 months whether children will be reunited with their parents or cared for permanently by others.   "But it's just not that simple, because the vast majority of kids want to be with their families," CWLA Executive Director David Liederman said at a meeting on substance abuse earlier this year.   "What we've learned over the years is that often when the biological parents can't parent, maybe ... other family members can, and the biological parents can still be in the picture," he said.   Still, with addicts typically taking years to go through treatment, the questions remain.   "Do you keep the child with the mother? Do you take the child away from the mother?" asked Dr. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse, at the CWLA meeting.   Drug addiction is so powerful that it often "takes precedence over normal and existing mother-love," Dr. Leshner said. "I think many addicted people abuse their children in part because the children are, in a sense, between the parents and the drugs."   However, he added, "the truth is, if you keep the child with the mother, the probability of her being successful in treatment is tremendously increased."   Experts who oppose South Carolina's law say there are better alternatives:"Family drug courts" can act where other systems cannot, says Mary Haack, a professor at George Washington University. These specialized courts can order drug services for parents and use "close monitoring, sanctions and rewards to help the process along," she says, adding that 20 family drug courts are being developed.Involuntary civil commitment (ICC) places pregnant addicts in an inpatient treatment center for a short period of time. Minnesota mandates ICC for some pregnant women, and 22 states permit ICC for drug addicts in general, says Lawrence J. Nelson, a legal scholar at Santa Clara University in California.Oregon has had success by involving entire families in planning the future for an addict's children, and sending in "family support teams" to help for a year.   "The families that have worked with family support teams came to our legislature and said that this program has helped them remain drug-free," Kay Dean Toran, director of Oregon's Office for Services for Children, told the CWLA substance-abuse event this year.   Sixty-seven percent of families who have had this kind of support are drug-free a year later, she said. "What we don't know is whether these families remain drug-free for the long term." 
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