Neglect Findings by DYFS/DCPP must be made on Science – not Assumption

On Monday, September 10, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in a case of significance to all involved in the child welfare system. In DYFS (n/k/a/ DCPP) v. A.L., the trial Court, and subsequently, the Appellate Division, made a finding of neglect against a mother who ingested cocaine during her pregnancy. The finding has wide-ranging implications.

Certainly, no one disputes that ingestion of cocaine may have serious consequences for an unborn fetus – but no less serious than ingestion of cigarette smoke, failure to wear seatbelts, and other less than laudable conduct during pregnancy. The difference with cocaine, however, is that its very mention suggests a moral culpability, which does not attend to other conduct of mothers-to-be.

What may surprise many who do not dwell in the land of child protection is that there is little science to support the conclusion that in utero ingestion of cocaine, per se, is harmful to a fetus. Opponents of the trial court’s conclusion argue that attaching the severe consequence of a substantiation and loss of a child to the unfortunate conduct attendant to addiction will, in all likelihood, deter pregnant addicts from seeking treatment.

And, by thwarting treatment, the child protection community is, once again, creating a “cure” that is worse than the “ailment”. Better alternatives to treatment of addiction must be pursued by our society. It will be interesting to see how our Supreme Court views this critical issue.

To watch the Supreme Court argument, check out the live webcast at 10:00 a.m.:

http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/webcast/index.htm

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