“Meth Babies” in the California Dependency Court System
‘The greatest souls are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues, and those who go forward only very slowly can progress much further if they always keep the right path, than those who wander and run off of it.” –Rene Descartes
At the Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro, our experienced Long Beach, California dependency attorney knows first-hand that one of the most common cases at the Los Angeles County Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court involves mothers ingesting methamphetamine (“meth”) while pregnant, and testing positive during healthcare screenings. The babies born to these meth moms are often born with positive toxicology results for meth and other harmful drugs. I recall at least a dozen cases where a mother used meth within days of giving birth. Do California’s drug laws and homeless culture spawn more meth babies? No one on the front lines of the child abuse and neglect field would disagree that the number of cases involving newborn children suffering from positive toxicology for meth at birth is staggering.
When mothers use drugs during their pregnancies, they are not only hurting themselves but the innocent child in their womb. Drug use during pregnancy has severe consequences. They are self-evident.
In 2014, I was a court appointed attorney of a mother that abused meth during her pregnancy. Somehow, the parents had the child released to them from the NICU. In court, I saw a sight that I would have expected to see in an actual war zone. I saw a 2-month old meth baby just released from the NICU in Palmdale. This little baby boy was so thin and weak that it reminded me of death, not life. The baby’s neck was so twisted and bent at an angle, it made me grimace like something out of a horror film.
A well-respected judge and former mentor of mine detained the baby boy in court. I observed the bailiff remove a fragile baby boy out the parents’ arms as they wailed and sobbed. I do not think one person in the courtroom felt any remorse for the parents. I have read more hospital records from the NICU of kids having withdrawal symptoms, unable to feed, unable to grow, and only able to sustain the first part of life on an incubator than I care to recall.
The common meth mom stories are not like Oliver Twist. In my experience, meth moms come from good families and lost their way in the depths of a methamphetamine addiction. As a lawyer, my job is to apply the law to the facts of the case. A lawyer must be professional enough to leave personal sentiments aside.
Do all drug addicts that abuse meth or hard drugs during pregnancy deserve to have their children taken away? From a moral standpoint it seems black and white. When things are black and white you need to know your rights before DCFS “comes a-knocking.”
You Have the Right to Have an Attorney Present When Questioned by DCFS
Parents have an unremunerated fundamental liberty right under the United States Constitution to parent their children as they see fit without government interference. As such, parents have a right to have an attorney present when being questioned by DCFS. If a social worker is making first contact with you, it is wise to request that the interview be set up at a time when counsel can be present. Social workers will get very aggressive if you say that you want your attorney present and that might cause them to react by bringing in a police officer.
Here is the script all parents should repeat to a social worker that will hopefully defuse the tension of their government interaction.
Social Worker: “I would like to speak with you about a referral that I received about concerns for child abuse. We received a report that you tested positive for the drug methamphetamine. Do you use drugs ma’am?”
Parent Response: “I want to invoke my right to have an attorney present. I do wish to cooperate with your investigation. Please provide me with your business card and I will have an attorney contact your attorney to set something up as soon as I get out of the hospital.”
After a parent talks to a social worker once, the right to have an attorney present still exists, but the damage is likely already done. Parents make admissions, social workers twist words, and kids say the darndest things. After admissions and statements are made that meth was used, the meth baby is almost assured to be removed from both parents’ custody.
It is necessary to cooperate with the social worker in a timely manner while he or she is investigating child abuse. Social workers apply for warrants to remove children from their homes after positive meth results and are almost always rewarded those requests without delay. If you refuse to cooperate, you can expect a warrant signed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rudolph Diaz removing the child from the parents’ care.
Hiring an attorney before making your first statements to DCFS defuses the situation and does not allow DCFS the opportunity to gain damaging evidence at a vulnerable time. Cooler heads prevail and your ability to effectively invoke your right to counsel could be the difference between foster care or placement with a relative.
As a human, I am absolutely disgusted with meth abuse in any manner and especially while pregnant. No one hates the reality of meth abuse more than me. As a lawyer, it is my professional obligation to inform clients of their rights and defend their case to the best of my ability. As a lawyer, I am dedicated to diligently and competently advocating on my client’s behalf based on the facts and evidence of the case. The amount of meth cases is so overwhelming that I wanted my community to know how meth cases are handled every day. If you’re on meth and fighting DCFS this one is for you!
Here are some of the common themes that come up in a meth baby case:
DO NOT USE METH FIRST AND FOREMOST: If you stop using meth and test clean at the birth, you will not have your child taken from you if you make the right moves going forward. Go to a church. Make amends with someone from your past. Seek help. Address whatever trauma or affliction is driving you to use and harm an innocent baby. Stopping early in your pregnancy gives you a better chance to keep the baby. If the baby is born positive for drugs and you are in inpatient recovery at the time, you stand a better chance to keep the baby. If you are using meth and pregnant call a dependency lawyer immediately. The sooner you seek help the better.
IF YOU CANNOT STOP USING METH BE PREPRARED TO FACE THE CONSEQUENCES.
What if the Hospital Accuses You of Meth Use?
If you are accused by hospital staff of meth use, it will feel like an ambush. Expect the good cop and bad cop routine. During all births, the hospital performs a preliminary screening for drugs in the mother and child’s systems. After a positive test, the doctors will get information from you and dispatch social workers to interview you. Before you even know it, you will be under investigation by the government and will have inadvertently said everything necessary to send your new-born baby to foster care. Meth moms’ make some very memorable and pathetic excuses. What you say, can and will be used against you in court. As soon as they say you had a positive meth test invoke your rights:
- Request another test
- Request a lawyer be present if they are investigating child abuse, I know my rights
Request a Make-Up Test. The hospital drug test is not generally admissible in court. Hospital drug tests are initial screenings and do not rise to the level in the scientific community as being reliable science. As such, the hospital test is inadmissible in evidence at the time of trial with proper objection. On the hospital test paperwork, you will generally find language that states “This test is not valid unless confirmed.” Confirmed means that another test occurs to confirm the results. So, if you tested positive and did not use, take another drug test.
Prior to a court order, parents are not required to take a drug test for DCFS. DCFS cannot force you to take a drug test. It is recommended to consult right away with a DCFS attorney if you are accused of testing positive for drugs at the hospital and DCFS requests that you take a drug test.
Stalling the DCFS investigation gives parents a better chance of things working out. If you are a hardcore meth user, saying nothing, doing no further test, and then testing negative after release from the hospital, and entering a rehab program may be helpful later in court to win your case. Most people on meth who are having children are not in their right minds and say things that damage their case and credibility. If you appear to be hiding information, it will crush your credibility even further. So be careful about what information you provide and speak with an attorney about what best to disclose to DCFS.
I almost forgot an innocent child’s life is in danger and hospital staff need meth moms’ cooperation to save a precious life.
BE HONEST AND UPFRONT OPTION: If you’re truly meth addicted and tested positive for meth at your baby’s birth, OWN IT. Do not lie to the healthcare providers trying to save your new-born child’s life. If you’re using, the court will find out and you will lose your kid. Your child’s life and health depend on your honesty.
RELATIVE PLACEMENT: If you are honest with the hospital staff and social worker, it is more likely the social worker may feel enough sympathy to place the child with an appropriate relative. Make sure to find a relative with no criminal law or DCFS records that has enough room to take your child. Get that relative to the hospital right away. Make it known that this relative is your plan for your child’s care. Failure to get a placement with a relative from the NICU significantly increases the chances for an adoption. Social workers place a premium on meth babies because couples seeking adoption want newborns that they can nurse from birth.
What If I Tested Positive but Did Not Use Drugs While Pregnant?
In some instances, drug tests can produce a false-positive result. Although uncommon, it is a very real possibility. I have worked on at least a dozen cases where false positive tests at the hospital were followed up by negative tests.
If you really did not use meth while pregnant, be sure to take another drug test that is DCFS approved right away or is observed. Take your own after leaving the hospital, and make sure the test is observed by a credible third party. If you cannot leave the hospital, find the test option available for a DCFS approved test.
The court and DCFS cannot force you to take a hair follicle test. If you a truly innocent taking a hair follicle test at an approved facility is recommended. In dependency court, you are guilty until you prove your innocence.
Your current prescriptions or supplements could result in false-positive test results, so be sure to list everything you are taking before a second drug test is initiated.
The hospital tests are usually only preliminary tests results and are not valid in court. So, if you do not admit to using meth or any drugs during pregnancy, you have a better chance to beat the case.
If the second test is negative and you do not make any admission of drug abuse to the social worker, your case is stronger. Any criminal history, DCFS history, mental health, or drug history increases the chances that DCFS will take your child just on a false positive test. If you have never been involved with any of these things, the only information that DCFS will know about you is what you and other people they interview say about you. Be careful about disclosing histories without consulting with an attorney.
Social worker’s write down, twist, and bend everything you tell them, so be careful what you say during an interview. I instruct my client that DCFS is like dealing with a corporation, you must talk as the cooperation expects, or you are dealt with swiftly. Thoroughly preparing and being ready to answer DCFS questions is strongly recommended at any phase of a case.
What Happens to My Baby When I Test Positive for Meth?
DCFS will obtain a warrant to remove the child from your care and provide a notice for you to appear in court. At the first court date, the court will remove the baby from your care, and set a trial. At the trial, you can expect to lose, like 97% of all cases filed at the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court. That means that the court will find enough evidence that you present at danger to your child and remove them from your care and control and place them in foster care or with a relative. Any first-time parent of a meth baby is legally allowed the opportunity to reunify. Parents are ordered Family Reunification Services, which is the right to attend programs to get the child back as the child is placed with a relative or in foster care.
Family Reunification Services still means that you are an unfit parent and unable to safely care for the child. What you can hope to obtain in about 9.1 months of continued sobriety is Family Maintenance Services. Family Maintenance Services means the child resides with a parent subject to court supervision. Reunification means that the child is removed from both parents.
What Services or Classes Do Meth Moms Have to Complete?
The court will order parents found unfit because of meth to participate in the following programs:
- Full Substance Abuse Testing Program: This must be a DCFS approved treatment center. Consult with an attorney or DCFS before entering.
- Random and On-demand Testing: The social worker will give you a telephone number to call each day and if your last name letter comes in it is your day to test. Any missed test counts as a failed test. It is extremely important to never miss a test. It gives the parents the best credibility of abstaining from use.
- Individual Counseling with a Licensed Therapist: Find a Marriage and Family Therapist or Psychologist to meet with and talk about the case’s issues.
- AA/NA with a Sponsor and After-care Program: Consult with an attorney about how to comply.
- Parenting Classes: Courses last from 8-12 weeks and cannot be taken online.
After ordering the parents into programs, the case will continue for six months. During the reunification period, parents should visit their child, complete the classes, and demonstrate remorse. If the parents do not complete their case plans, the court can set an adoption hearing after six months.
What Happens to My Baby If I Continue to Use Meth?
Any parent of a child under three years old at the time of disposition has as little as SIX MONTHS to get their child back. This is a very unrealistic time frame for someone who has decayed from drug abuse.
That means meth parents who are living in an unstable environment who continue to use meth have little to no chance to rehabilitate and reunify with the child.
The words “relapse is part of recovery” is a phrase that carries little sympathy in the dependency court, and with the stakes so high and the time for mistakes so short, meth babies are adopted daily.
When a mother enters an inpatient facility and drops out, it will delay the reunification, and adoption is more likely to occur. Meth parents have no room for error.
When considering reunification, social workers expect approximately nine months of consistent negative drug tests and compliance with the services before they will consider sending any meth baby back home. It seems like an unwritten rule that a social worker will not start to give a meth parent unmonitored visits until at least 9 months of sobriety from their last use.
Any relapse that interrupts the nine months of sobriety will crush your case. Parents only have a total of 18 months to get their children back if they are making progress in court ordered services.
How Can I Get Help for Meth Addiction and Get My Baby Back?
If you are addicted to meth, or any other type of narcotics, and are pregnant or have recently had a baby who tested positive for meth, get help immediately.
Here are some tips if you want to get off meth and avoid the court from adopting your child:
- Enroll in Medi-Cal coverage, as it accepted by many inpatient facilities
- Check into an inpatient facility and get off the streets
- Address your childhood and trauma and remember the good things about yourself
- Delete your phone contacts, and consider changing your phone number
- Find a new area to stay, away from people you used with
- Attend AA or NA
- Call someone who loves you, apologize and ask for help
- Find outpatient drug treatment programs
The court cannot order meth parents into inpatient rehab. They can strongly recommend it but cannot order it. If you are using meth, getting 30 days sober and staying away from temptation can be the difference of a foundation of sobriety and preventing an adoption.
What Can I Do to Help A Pregnant Relative Who is Using Meth or I Suspect is Using?
When DCFS removes a child from birth parents, it is a very sensitive process. You must not be too quick to judge the afflicted because the trauma she suffered during childhood is often the root cause for reckless behavior.
The first step in helping someone you love is identifying the signs of meth use, which can include:
- Unexplained absences for days at a time
- Crashing for hours upon returning home
- Rapid speech and eye movement
- High energy levels
- Paranoia and talk of conspiracy, including accusations of people listening/watching
- Talk of government interference, including testing on them
- Referring to bugs on themselves, on walls or carpet
- Picking and organizing lint off the carpet or grass off the ground
- Picking at their face or body (if this is occurring beware of mental deterioration)
- They get angry and change the subject or play the victim when you ask them about use
- Dirty fingernails
- Person is always dirty and smells
- Injection marks from meth or even heroin (meth users often come down on heroin or fentanyl)
Meth parents have the hardest fight of their lives. They must lift themselves out of poverty, pay for their own rehab, find a place to live, and often address the mental health issues that accompany their drug use. In some cases, meth abusers obtain mental health disorders associated from abuse which becomes part of their lives forever.
If you have identified the signs in your loved one, and believe she may be using meth or any other narcotic during pregnancy, contact your health insurance provider to understand their coverage if she is on your policy or help enroll the mother in Medi-Cali coverage to get the inpatient help she needs right away. Both her and the child’s lives depend on it. Being proactive may allow the child to remain with the mother.
My Other Child was Adopted, and I am Pregnant Again, but Not Using Meth
If you had a meth baby adopted and are pregnant, leave Los Angeles and California if you want to keep your unborn baby even if you have been sober for years. Of the very few people that slowly get their lives together after being meth addicts, they are still at risk of losing other babies.
When sober former meth moms get pregnant again and report to a hospital using public assistance, the trap is already set by DCFS. California hospitals are alerted to any previous adoptions when the mother is delivering. Even if you are sober, this will trigger hospital social workers and a witch hunt. Under Welfare and Institutions Code Section 361.5, the court can immediately place your newborn healthy child up for adoption since you lost a previous child. Defenses exist to prevent this from occurring, but avoiding that trouble is recommended. Do not give your healthy child to DCFS. Get off public assistance or go to another state to have your child.
How Can the Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro Help Me?
At the Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro, our dependency lawyer in Long Beach is a former court-appointed attorney for the Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc. (LADL) who represented parents involved in the Los Angeles County Foster Care System.
As a court-appointed attorney, he has litigated hundreds of cases involving the abuse and neglect of children and has devoted his life to fighting DCFS, CPS, social workers, minors’ attorneys, and conservative Judges to reunite children with their parents as soon as possible.
If you have tested positive for meth during pregnancy or after the birth of your child, you are going to need help getting the newborn back in your arms.
Contact our experienced Long Beach dependency attorney at the Law Offices of Kyle R. Puro today by calling (562) 653-4583 to schedule a free consultation and learn how you can get your and your baby’s lives back on track.