'Dangerous' Blue State Policy Could Have Serious Consequences for Newborns

A nurse stealthily approaches one of the cradles, positioning a stethoscope on a small package swathed in white blankets. The infant moves but doesn't reveal her eyes, ultimately succumbing once more to tranquil rest. She is among four infants exposed to drugs being attended to at the Pediatric Interim Care Center, roughly 20 miles to the south of Seattle.

"The babies generally have anywhere from two to five drugs in their system, if not more," detailed Barbara Drennen, the founder of PICC in 1990. Since that time, over 3,300 babies sent by the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families have been granted withdrawal treatment and a secure refuge by her team.

Drennen now fears a freshly introduced state policy that no longer mandates hospitals to notify Child Protective Services of all newborns exposed to substances might put at risk infants like the ones under her care. The state, however, counters by stating its objective is the safeguarding of children and the prevention of unnecessary family separations.

In June, Washington's Department of Health (DOH) revealed the revised policy. Hospitals must adhere to it by Jan. 1, 2025.

Previously, medical staff at birthing hospitals were obligated to notify CPS of newborns affected by exposure to drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. Currently, families may access what the state refers to as "voluntary wrap-around services" without a formal report, assuming there are no safety issues regarding the infant, as per DOH.

"There's not a lot of change in terms of the types of circumstances that they were previously reporting," conveyed Alissa Copeland, early learning program manager for Washington's Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). "The biggest change is that families that would not necessarily meet that threshold around safety concerns are now offered a voluntary community pathway that they didn't previously have available."

Included substances may encompass alcohol, marijuana, or harder drugs, and also medications that an expecting mother might be consuming as instructed, even if she's uninformed that it may affect her child, as per Copeland.

Drennen declared that addiction has "hit every family in America." Though the types of drugs might have evolved since she established PICC 33 years prior, the significance of the center remains constant, she expressed.

The facility enables caseworkers to converse with families, perform inspections of homes, and carry out background examinations to ensure that an infant exposed to substances will be secure, according to Drennen. This safeguard is something she is apprehensive about losing as the state implements its new regulations.

"It has allowed the caseworker to go home at night and know the place she has put this baby in permanently has checked out fine," Drennen said. "This is what this program was designed for, and it has done its job."

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