What happens to babies born to addicted parents?

Published on
July 9, 2018

Fifteen drug-exposed infants born were born in California’s little Butte County in the year 2000. In 2016, 120 drug-exposed infants were born – an increase of 620 percent.

In Stanislaus, such births rose 437.5 percent. In Monterey and San Diego, they more than quadrupled. In Riverside, San Bernardino, Sacramento, and Fresno they tripled.

Parental drug use is now responsible for one-third of the children placed in foster care, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “The health, well-being and safety of these infants may be jeopardized if they are sent home with parents with substance use disorders who do not have a system of support and are not in treatment or recovery,” it said.

We came across these stunning numbers in the course of our reporting for the Southern California News Group’s Rehab Riviera project, which took up most of 2017. We found that broke and homeless heroin addicts are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to unscrupulous centers cashing in on mandatory coverage requirements. These addicts are commodities — bought, sold and exploited in an underworld rife with kickbacks, drug use and fraud that bleeds millions from insurers’ and private pockets — and many of them are young, in their prime childbearing years.

A raft of proposals to strengthen oversight of the industry is in the works in Sacramento and Washington D.C. — a most heartening development — but I was left wondering about these babies.

What happens to them?

What happens to their parents?

We at the Southern California News Group are joining with our sister publications in the Bay Area News Group to answer these questions with a grant from the Center for Health Journalism’s inaugural Impact Fund.

At SCNG, the reporting team will include me and Rehab Riviera teammates Tony Saavedra and Scott Schwebke, as well as photojournalist Mindy Schauer, whose astonishing photographs of young addicts on the Rehab Riviera gave the project vivid life. The main editor will be Andre Mouchard, who edited our Rehab Riviera series.

This is an exceedingly tender project, and it requires us to proceed with great care. We must respect the privacy of patients and of infants; we must navigate complex social support systems; we must tease out statistics that are not readily available. But the issue is a salient one, deserving of the effort.

We didn’t swing into full multimedia mode with Rehab Riviera, but we’re going to tackle several different storytelling platforms with this project, something that will give the work greater reach, and hopefully, greater impact.

We are interested in speaking to people who have experience in this system from any and all of its angles — medical, social workers, treatment providers, and parents. Feel free to drop us a line at tsforza@scng.com or tsaavedra@scng.com.

[Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images]