Report: Inconsistent efforts to help drug-exposed babies
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A state watchdog office on Friday called for increased communication, collaboration and consistency when it comes to helping infants born exposed to opioids and other substances.
The number of infants born exposed to drugs has steadily increased in New Hampshire. Between July 2018 and September 2019, about 500 infants were monitored in hospitals for signs of opioid withdrawal or neo-natal abstinence syndrome, making up 3.5 % of all births.
The Office of the Child Advocate spent nearly a year reviewing how the state Division of Children, Youth and Families supports such infants and their families. It found numerous promising practices, including the hiring of a specialized caseworker in the DCYF office that covers two dozen communities in southern New Hampshire. In Concord, there’s a regional perinatal community collaborative that brings together DCYF workers, health care providers and others to share knowledge, policy and practice.
“The problem is inconsistency with these initiatives,” said Moira O’Neill, director of the child advocate office.
The report released Friday recommends expanding the specialist role to every district office, establishing community collaboratives statewide and education for all staff about substances and their effects on infants.
In many cases, the state’s response is limited by some of the same problems that hinder broader child protection efforts, O’Neill said.
All parties interviewed during the review reported difficulty in communicating with each other, and some medical providers reported not understanding why DCYF’s actions differed from case to case. Such inconsistency led to a perception that DCYF decisions could be arbitrary or punitive, the report states. DCYF workers, meanwhile, described significant difficulty in getting information from substance use treatment providers.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said while no amount of safety planning can reverse the impact of prenatal substance exposure, the report highlights the many positive efforts the state and its partners have made. The recommendations build on existing efforts to improve coordination and communication between health care providers, community-based prevention programs and child welfare stakeholders, he said.
Gov. Chris Sununu said the report makes it clear that much has been accomplished.
“It is our shared responsibility to ensure that children with complex health and social needs are provided the support and treatment they need,” he said in a statement.