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Recommendations adopted for dealing with Oklahoma's drug babies

Rocked by a series of preventable infant deaths, the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth has adopted new recommendations for doctors and child welfare workers to follow in dealing with newborns exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb.
by Randy Ellis Published: January 26, 2013

“When major addiction problems are identified with the mother, we've got to be able to offer some sort of treatment services,” Stuemky said.

Early on in the subcommittee's yearlong inquiry, officials discovered DHS child abuse hotline workers were not collecting and recording data concerning babies who tested positive for drugs at birth, Felty said. That was quickly changed, she said.

Stuemky said as recently as a year ago, DHS child welfare workers did not always conduct investigations when his hospital reported newborns had tested positive for drugs. That policy has changed and investigations are now conducted in each case, he said.

The commission's inquiry also revealed that every hospital and every physician who has delivered a baby seemed to have different criteria for deciding when to make a referral to the state child welfare system, Felty said.

Stuemky told the commission that he relied on previous work done in Arizona and the state of Washington to develop a protocol for doctors and hospitals to follow in determining when and how to test, detect and report drug and alcohol abuse by mothers of newborns.

The protocol will be distributed to hospitals with childbirth facilities, as well as to doctors who care for expectant mothers and newborns, officials said.

The goal is not to seek punishment for mothers who have abused drugs or alcohol while pregnant, but to make referrals so that services can be provided to monitor and protect the safety of the babies, Stuemky said.

In extreme cases, child welfare workers may have to go to court to seek custody of a child, but those cases would be in the minority, he said.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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