Adopting a Substance Exposed Child

Adopting a Substance Exposed Child


Substance abuse amongst pregnant women is more prevalent than one may believe. About 1 in 5 women will use an illicit drug or substance during pregnancy. Detecting the effects of substance abuse on an infant or child may be difficult because oftentimes the symptoms presented are subtle and similar to that of other illnesses.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse during Pregnancy

Babies who are born to moms who abuse substances during their pregnancies can encounter an array of complications. Some of these complications include:

  • Premature Birth
  • Low Birth weight
  • Heart Defects
  • Birth Defects
  • Infections
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome ( NAS)

Babies who are born to moms who abuse substances during pregnancy may also encounter other problems later on in life. Some of these include:

  • Learning and Behavior Problems
  • Slower Than Average Growth Rate
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome ( SIDS)
  • Sensory Integration issues


Adoption Process

Prenatal exposure to substances can affect all types of adoptions: Infant or older child, domestic or international; public, private, or independent.

Some initial steps that can be taken when going through the adoption process are as follows:

  • Ask for a complete medical history and details about exposures: what substances were taken, for how long, whether or not the child can be or was born addicted, results of neonatal and subsequent testing, developmental aptitudes, etc.
  • Seek independent medical evaluations
  • Learn about prenatal exposures, what they are and potential effects.
  • Examine your attitudes and work with adoption and/or counseling professionals if you need help assessing your own abilities and capabilities.

Most agencies will offer you access to, information about, or assist you in finding resources to help you before, during, and after the adoption process. Here some resources that may be helpful for you to utilize:


  • Adoption and/or medical subsidies
  • Continuing to seek out information about support and/or educational services
  • Health and child development follow-ups throughout the preschool years
  • Special education services, including tutoring for those children who are underperforming
  • Counseling Services, including assessment and intervention for neuropsychological problems
  • Support groups for parents
  • Behavioral Management Services, including education and guidance for dealing with children throughout various developmental stages
  • Respite care
  • Legal assistance for parents in finalizing the adoption and pursuing services

It is Important to Remember..

Remember that every child responds to substance abuse differently and there is no way to predict how your child may be affected. However, if impairment is present, don’t assume that there is nothing that can be done to help your child. The greatest asset to you is assessing the needs of your child and intervening early on.

Children with developmental delays can and should be referred to federal early intervention programs or programs offered by adoption agencies and local school systems. Mental health professionals can also assist parents in coping with their child’s difficult behaviors and helping children attach to their caregivers.

Although parenting a child who has been exposed to prenatal drug use can be challenging to even the most skilled parent, research shows that when parents work with professionals and provide a loving and stimulating home, most children are able to thrive and adjust well.

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