Children of Mothers Who Use Drugs More Likely to be Abused, Neglected

A new study finds that young children whose mothers abuse drugs may face a higher risk of abuse and placement in foster care. Australian researchers found that infants whose mothers abused amphetamines or opiates were 13 times more likely to become victims of neglect or abuse than other children their age. They had similar odds of being placed in foster care.

The study, published in the July 2009 edition of the journal Pediatrics, was conducted by Andrea McGlade of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane and colleagues. Using data from child-protective services, they found that half of the children born to drug-abusing mothers became victims of neglect or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

The study included 119 infants of mothers who had acknowledged abusing opiates or amphetamines or being treated with methadone. They were compared with 238 infants of non-drug-abusing mothers. Both groups were followed for about four years.

Fifty-two percent of the children born to drug-using mothers became victims of neglect or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, compared to 6 percent of children whose mothers did not abuse drugs. One-quarter of children in the drug-abusing mother group entered foster care, whereas 2 percent of the comparison group entered foster care.

According to McGlade, experts have long recognized the heightened risk of harm to children of substance-abusing mothers, but the few studies that have been done were of poor quality, and the extent of the risk has been unclear.

She told Reuters, “So if a baby is born to a substance-abusing mother, previously there was very little evidence to guide health and child protection workers as to what risk that baby may face due to the mother’s drug use.”

Those whose mothers used opiates or amphetamines had nearly three times the risk of neglect, emotional, or sexual abuse, compared to children whose mothers were being treated with methadone.

McGlade said the findings point to a need for “specific, targeted” parenting programs for women who use drugs. Adding family-planning services to substance-abuse treatment programs might also be beneficial.

Posted on July 10th, 2009

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