Doctors in the First State are collecting data to see if infants exposed to illegal and prescription drugs prenatally are more likely to suffer abuse and neglect.
The Child at Risk Evaluation Program at Nemours is keeping track of calls to the Delaware Child Protective Services hotline - specifically calls involving prenatal substance exposure. The doctors document whether the agency gets involved after the call, whether there are reports of serious or fatal injury to an infant and which substances are involved.
Federal law from 2016 requires states to have plans of safe care for infants exposed to substances before birth. Program Co-Director Dr. Stephanie Deutsch says the study is meant to see if Delaware’s plans for safe care are creating positive health outcomes for infants and their families.
“The overall goal of the research is to try to discern how we can support these families to keep infants safely with their caregivers, so that we can ensure the best outcomes both from a medical, neurodevelopmental, psycho-emotional and safety perspective,” said Deutsch.
Deutsch adds she hopes the study will identify ways the Delaware Department of Child Services can better support families affected by substance abuse disorders, and encourage child clinicians to increase screenings for abuse and neglect among at-risk populations.
There are older studies suggesting substance exposed infants are, in fact, at a higher risk for abuse and neglect. But Deutsch says the scope of the national opioid crisis warrants even more data collection on the subject.
“Knowing that this phenomenon is now happening in more epidemic proportions nationwide, we as child abuse trained physicians here at the hospital were interested in looking at this data here within our geographic locale to see if that is in fact true,” she said.
There were 431 cases of substance exposed infants reported in Delaware in 2016.