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How Newborns Are Becoming Victims of Legalized Marijuana Use

New York Post

May 27, 2023

The Administration for Children’s Services has engaged in “pervasive discriminatory practices,” according to a lawsuit filed by Chanetto Rivers in federal court last week.

Rivers, who is black, claims that the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) removed her newborn baby from her custody as part of the agency’s “disparate treatment of Black families” which “cause[s] lasting, intergenerational trauma.”

Whether or not ACS is racist, Chanetto Rivers is not a good test case. 

The facts are clear: A few hours before Rivers gave birth in 2021, she smoked marijuana.

When her child was born, both she and the baby tested positive for the drug.

With marijuana now (and then) legal in New York State, such findings are no longer reason enough to separate children from their parents.

Nonetheless, ACS told the hospital not to release the baby to Rivers. 

The actual positive test was hardly the only factor.

Rivers had two other children previously removed from her custody because of incidents involving drugs and alcohol and because she failed to obtain medical care for one of them. (ACS also claims she was smoking weed in the hospital right after the birth, though this has not been substantiated.)

Because ACS cannot discuss Rivers’ cases, the details remain unclear.

What is clear is that Rivers had still not been reunified with the other children when she gave birth.

But Rivers isn’t suing over those previous removals, possibly because their details wouldn’t bolster her case.

Substance abuse and caring for small children are rarely a good combination; it’s hard enough to do so when you’re perfectly sober.

Maybe racism is not to blame for all of this mother’s problems after all.

As more states legalize drug use, child welfare agencies are having a harder time detecting when such usage puts children in harm’s way — and intervening when necessary.

Police departments are also investigating far fewer reports of drug use, making it that much harder to identify at-risk kids.

Even when they do, progressive social service agendas do little to hold these parents accountable.

Accountability doesn’t have to mean removing children — court-mandated addiction treatment is an option as well.

This kind of intervention could save children from future abuse and neglect.

There is a strong link between mothers using drugs while pregnant and the subsequent maltreatment of their children.

According to a 2018 study of over half a million babies born in California in 2006, “61.2% of those diagnosed [with substance exposure] were reported to [child protective services] before age 1 and nearly one third (29.9%) were placed in foster care.”

We don’t accept people driving a car or operating heavy machinery when they’re high — so why should we believe they’re capable of supervising small children — let alone caring for newborns — after smoking pot?

The idea that parents should be held accountable for their drug use seems foreign to Rivers and the Bronx Defenders (a pro bono advocacy group representing her).

It also appears foreign to The New York Times, which first reported this story and took at face value her lawyers’ claim that there is no connection between Rivers’ previous ACS cases and her current circumstances.

Rather, Rivers is positioned as another victim of racism, instead of an adult capable of making decisions for herself and her children.

What would possess a woman with two kids in the foster care system to smoke weed while nine months pregnant?  

As evidence of this racism, the lawsuit cites disparate rates of investigations and removals of black children into foster care — without ever noting that black children are three times as likely to die from maltreatment as their white peers.

So it would make sense that they are reported and investigated more frequently. 

A paper earlier this year from the journal Child Maltreatment looked at the disparities in risks to children as measured by factors like child poverty and infant mortality.

Black children had much higher risk levels (more than twice as high for infant mortality, for instance).

They then compared disparities in those risk factors to disparities in reporting suspected abuse or neglect cases to CPS.

The authors conclude: “Available data provide no evidence that Black children were over-reported relative to observed risks and harms reflected in non-CPS data.” 

The Bronx Defenders also point in Rivers’ lawsuit to a recent report which surveyed 50 ACS workers of color in an agency with thousands of employees about the existence of structural racism in the system.

The authors found that most volunteers who wanted to participate — all were minorities, and no white people were allowed — said the agency was structurally racist. (Talk about leading the science!) 

Of course, it is perfectly possible that individual caseworkers are racist or that their personal biases are influencing their decisions.

But the evidence presented by Rivers and her lawyers is hardly convincing. 

About the Author

Naomi Schaefer Riley