Hospital Protocol when Newborns Test Positive for Drugs

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires all states maintain a protocol for notifying child protective services (CPS) when hospitals identify newborns who’ve been affected by an illegal substance. Similarly, states must notify CPS whenever a baby experiences withdrawal symptoms from prenatal drug exposure.

The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) is New Jersey’s CPS agency. New Jersey hospitals must have a protocol for notifying the DCP&P under federal law. The DCP&P then follows a certain protocol for ensuring the baby is safe in the mother’s care.

A Routine Test

New Jersey hospitals test for the presence of drugs in the baby’s meconium or umbilical cord blood. This is a routine test following all births. If the test comes back positive or the baby has withdrawal symptoms, they will run more tests and notify the DCP&P. Healthcare workers can identify withdrawal symptoms fairly quickly and even decipher what specific drug is causing the withdrawal symptoms.

The Role of Law Enforcement

In addition to DCP&P involvement, some states criminally prosecute women who’ve exposed their babies to illegal substances while in utero. Unlike some states, New Jersey does not automatically press charges against mothers when they expose their baby to drugs. And, under New Jersey law, drug exposure doesn’t constitute child abuse or neglect in and of itself.

Involving the DCP&P doesn’t necessarily mean caseworkers will take the baby away. But it does mean the agency may begin an investigation. Caseworkers might come to talk to you in the hospital and ask questions. They may also ask for records of drug tests and treatment.

Bear in mind whenever caseworkers are asking you questions and looking through records that you are in a vulnerable position. You do have rights, however, so it is wise to speak with an attorney to get a clear picture of how you can exercise them. Don’t assume caseworkers have a right to snoop through your records and ask you endless questions when you are recovering. It’s best to consult with an experienced New Jersey child abuse and neglect defense attorney to ensure you aren’t being taken advantage of in your state.

Ask a Family Attorney to Explain Your Rights

Do you want to know your rights as a new mother? If so, Williams Law Group, LLC can explain your rights in the State of New Jersey and help you cooperate with the DCP&P while still protecting them. Located in Short Hills, New Jersey, Williams Law Group, LLC provides compassionate and dedicated legal services to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle divorce and family law, child custody, and child abuse/neglect cases. Call our office at (908) 810-1083, email us at, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation and ultimately get connected with an experienced New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney.

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