Health Affairs | VOL. 41
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Prenatal Substance Use Policies And Infant Maltreatment Reports

Publication Date May 1, 2022

Abstract

We studied the effect of state punitive and supportive prenatal substance use policies on reports of infant maltreatment to child protection agencies. Punitive policies criminalize prenatal substance use or define it as child maltreatment, whereas supportive policies provide pregnant women with priority access to substance use disorder treatment programs. Using difference-in-differences methods, we found that total infant maltreatment reports increased by 19.0percent after punitive policy adoption during the years of our study (2004-18). This growth was driven by a 38.4percent increase in substantiated reports in which the mother was the alleged perpetrator. There were no changes in unsubstantiated reports after the adoption of punitive policies. We observed no changes in infant maltreatment reports after the adoption of supportive policies. Findings suggest that punitive policies lead to large increases in substantiated infant maltreatment reports, which in turn may lead to child welfare system involvement soon after childbirth in states with these policies. Policy makers should design interventions that emphasize support services and improve well-being for mothers and infants.

Concepts

Punitive Policies Prenatal Substance Use Supportive Policies Substance Use Disorder Treatment Programs Unsubstantiated Reports Infant Maltreatment Prenatal Substance Adoption Of Policies Child Maltreatment

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