Child Welfare Court Cases Involving Prenatal Substance Use: Policy Considerations

State supreme and appellate courts presiding over civil child protection cases often decide legal issues relating to a mother’s prenatal use of substances. As courts answer questions that arise during child welfare proceedings, they often interpret state civil child abuse and neglect statutes and policies. Understanding the role of state statutes and policies
in case outcomes can help identify opportunities to build on, reform, or reimagine statutes and policies so they keep pace with the current evidence and knowledge base regarding best practices to support mothers, infants, and families touched by prenatal substance use.

This brief, drawn from Key Legal Issues in Civil Child Protection Cases Involving Prenatal Substance Exposure, a review of court decisions around the country, highlights legal themes that have emerged over the last 10-15 years in child welfare court cases involving prenatal substance use. It highlights key legal issues courts have addressed, relevant cases, key takeaways for the field, and policy considerations. The policy considerations identify potential negative consequences and harm from punitive responses to prenatal substance use and offer evidence and strength-based approaches to working with mothers and families that support healthier outcomes.

ABA Center for Children and the Law – Quality Improvement Center – May 2021

Read the full brief.

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