Kent County offers CPS help with drug-exposed babies

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Joann Hoganson saw Target 8’s 2016 story exposing the growing problem of infants born drug positive, she knew she could help.

As director of the Community Wellness Division at the Kent County Health Department, Hoganson is in charge of a staff of 30 or so public health nurses and social workers.

“What our nurses and social workers can do is they can evaluate for the safety (of the infants) and connect the mom to the resources she needs if she’s ready to let go of her substance abuse,” Hoganson said. “Following the report, I made some phone calls to CPS the very next morning and said, ‘Look, I think I have another alternative for us.”

Target 8’s investigation profiled the short lives of three infants who were born with illicit drugs in their systems.

The babies, from Kalamazoo, Muskegon Heights and Jackson, all died before their first birthdays, though their deaths were not directly related to their moms’ drug use.

Two died in unsafe sleep situations, and the cause of the third baby’s death was officially undetermined.

When the infants were born and testing found illicit drugs in their systems, CPS was notified immediately.

The agency opened investigations, as required by law, and visited each infant’s home at least once to conduct a standard risk assessment before closing out each case.

“They’re required to open an investigation,” explained Hoganson. “Very frequently that investigation is closed very quickly because they didn’t necessarily see during that one home visit the whole scenario.”

That’s where Hoganson says Kent County’s visiting nurse program could help.

“The beauty of having our nurses and social workers go in is we have Medicaid funds to go in nine times during the first year as opposed to one visit (from CPS), so it’s a much more holistic approach. Rather than going in just to address safety, they’ll also address everything from nutrition to breast feeding to well-baby checks to the safe sleep environment to safety with things like car seats,” she said.

After her phone call to CPS, Hoganson was invited to participate in a work group that crafted legislation mandating a “plan of safe care” for infants affected by substance use disorder.

Senate bills 397 and 398, introduced in May by Republican Sens. Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Margaret O’Brien of Portage, were referred to the Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services.

The “plan of safe care” would include evidence-based home visits by nurses and social workers.

But the Chief of Staff for Sen. O’Brien told Target 8 Friday that it would likely be “some time” before the bills would be heard in committee for official testimony.

“We recently had a work group meeting on this legislation with Senator Jones’ office and other stakeholders,” wrote Stephanie Bogema, O’Brien’s Chief of Staff. “This issue is considerably more complex than it appears at first glance…. Senator Jones and Senator O’Brien consider this a priority but as with many public health-related issue there are complexities when thinking about long-term solutions.”

Also participating in that conversation are representatives from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which includes Children’s Protective Services.

“MDHHS has been involved in the workgroup that is studying how to address this important issue,” wrote Bob Wheaton in a statement to Target 8.

“We will continue to work with the senators to protect children who are being affected by the national opioid epidemic,” said Wheaton, Public Information Officer with MDHHS.

Wheaton praised the work of the Kent County Health Department on this issue.

“Kent County has been a great partner in these efforts and has done wonderful work in their visiting nurse and home visitation programs,” Wheaton wrote.

“Working together, we have an opportunity to address this public health issue and work to meet the needs of children, parents and families.”

Target 8 will continue to track developments in efforts to ensure safe care for newborns exposed to illegal drugs.