New state program offers treatment, nonpunitive measures for drug-using moms

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – For the last year and a half, the state has been trying a new approach with mothers whose newborns are exposed to or are addicted to drugs. These are mothers who suffer from addiction and drug use and the new program is focused on getting these mothers treatment, instead of getting them in trouble.

The Comprehensive Recovery and Addiction Act, better known as CARA, is a relatively new state program. When healthcare workers discover a baby has been exposed or addicted to drugs, they alert CYFD. Under the new law, a mother’s use of drugs alone isn’t a reason to file child neglect or abuse case with CYFD. In these cases, instead of punishment, CYFD now offers help.

“We sit down with someone and say ‘here’s what we have to help you do these, what would you like,'” said Dept. of Health CARA Representative, Susan Merrill.

Before the mom leaves the hospital with her newborn, she has to fill out a care plan. It allows the mom to select services she would like for her and the baby, like home visiting, infant mental health, substance abuse counseling, and even transportation help. But here’s the catch, the moms aren’t required to do any of these programs.

“In theory, the program is a great idea to support these families and help the children stay in the home,” said Rep. Rebecca Dow (R- Truth or Consequences). State Rep. Dow has concerns about the program being voluntary and wants to see more data on how many women are actually using these services.

“If families aren’t engaging, then taxpayer dollars are not being spent effectively, if families aren’t engaging then risky behavior isn’t being reduced,” said Rep. Dow.

Officials say it’s still too early to see which services have been the most effective, but believe the new approach is making a difference.

“In the year and a half we’ve been doing this, we’ve seen some of those early families who have been very successful with our program,” said CYFD CARA spokesperson, Trisstin Maroney.

CYFD explains that they keep track of the mothers in the program and if a mom misses an appointment or counseling session, their care coordinator will try to contact that mother. Where 1,000 mothers have made these care plans with the state. CYFD said the most common substances found in these newborns are meth and marijuana.

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