A Better Solution for Babies Born to Mothers with Opioid Dependency

Establishing a support structure early helps keep families intact

When a baby is born to a mother who suffers from opioid dependence, the standard practice in many states is to place the child in foster care, separating mother from child at a critical time and often leading to poor outcomes for both. That’s why Valerie Chandler, former program director of the Berks Parents Services Collaboration in Pennsylvania, got together with like-minded people and institutions like the Reading Hospital to develop an approach that focuses on building a strong support system for the mother.

The program establishes a support group of family, friends, and social workers early in the mother’s pregnancy, beginning with a frank discussion about the health of the child and the conditions for retaining custody. Everyone involved signs a written plan of action, a step which one family member said was “something we would never have done on our own.”

Of the 21 mothers who have worked with the program so far, 18 have been able to stay with their children, and two are having their children raised by family members. This is a significant improvement over the past paradigm, where the majority of children would likely have ended up in the foster care system.

“[The program] is great for mothers who are experiencing opioid addiction, because it brings the entire family together for a really good [reason]—the baby’s birth,” says Jennifer Wallis, a social worker for Berks County Children and Youth Services.

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