Deaths of drug-exposed babies prompt bill

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan senator will push for a new law to force Children’s Protective Services to change the way it handles drug-positive newborns.

“When I saw the story, I wasn’t just shocked, I was angry,” recalled state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.

Jones said he has already requested that a bill be drafted to address the issue exposed by Target 8.

“When you have a baby born with illegal drugs in its system, certainly it’s our job as the state to continually watch over them and make sure they’re safe,” he said.

Jones’ bill would force CPS to automatically open a case for services for at least 90 days when a baby is born with an illegal drug in its system. That would allow a caseworker to monitor the family for three months to ensure that the baby is receiving appropriate care.

“For a state not to continue to check for at least three months I think is wrong,” Jones said. “I think three months is the least we can do.”

Jones’s efforts come on the heels of a Target 8 investigation that profiled the cases of three drug-exposed babies who died before their first birthdays. In each case, after the state was notified that the baby had test positive at birth, CPS conducted a standard risk assessment, including a home visit, but ultimately closed out each case, ending its involvement with the family.

Two of the babies had evidence of marijuana in their system at birth and the third tested positive for opiates. Though the babies were not addicted and their deaths were not directly related to the drugs, a watchdog agency says CPS involvement might have made a difference.

The Office of Children’s Ombudsman has noticed a pattern of drug-positive babies dying within a year from causes like unsafe sleep. It wants CPS caseworkers to automatically track families of drug-exposed babies for three months following birth.

Leaders at CPS say such a mandate would require a new law.

“We can’t just say, ‘Well, you are a substance abuser, so we are going to open a case,” explained Colin Parks, the state manager of Children’s Protective Services.

“Every single case is different. To come down and say, ‘In these types of cases we always do X, Y and Z’ is something I am not comfortable doing because all of these cases are unique. All families are unique, and being able to provide a good assessment and good intervention based on what those needs are is important to us,” he continued.

But Jones said he cannot imagine a case in which a drug-exposed baby would not benefit from additional oversight from CPS.

“They say they need a new law, he said. “I’m going to try to give them that new law they need to do their job, which is to check on the welfare of these babies.”

Jones, a former Eaton County sheriff, sits on the Senate Family, Seniors and Human Services Committee. State Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, chairs the committee.

“The baby’s the innocent victim and they’re reliant on everyone around them to provide for them,” Emmons said.

She plans to gather information from all involved parties, including CPS, to determine the best course of action.

“Sometimes you are faced with an issue and you say, ‘that’s a no-brainer,'” Emmons said. “Except that’s just your first blush and there are many more things that weight into that, and you say, ‘Ah, there’s more to this than what I saw when I first looked at it.’

“But having said that, children, babies, the most delicate of our population,” she continued. “They’re our priority and we have to make sure that we’re addressing what’s going on with them. If there’s something that needs to be done, we need to do it.”

Jones plans to introduce his bill early in 2017.

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