Skip to main content

Mandated Reporting and Parental Substance Abuse


3 min read

Mandated Reporting and Parental Substance Abuse

Mandated Reporting and Parental Substance Abuse

Mandated Reporting and Parental Substance Abuse

Each state has its own guidelines for what a mandated reporter needs to watch for when looking for signs of child abuse and neglect. For most states, parental substance abuse is included in that definition.

Parental substance use includes circumstances such as: 

  • Exposure to substances prenatally
  • Caregiver use of a controlled substance that impairs their ability to care for a child
  • Exposing a child to illegal drug activity

Mandated reporters are required to know what to look out for so they can file a report promptly if needed. Make sure you’re aware of how parental substance abuse can impact a child, and where your state stands on the issue.

Learn Crucial Information for Mandated Reporters - Start Training Today

Substance-Exposed Infants

Mothers who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant may give birth to infants who show signs of that exposure. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires states to have systems that address the needs of these infants.

24 states and the District of Columbia have specific statutes in place for suspected substance exposure in babies. In general, these make drug exposure or a positive drug test alone basis for filing a report.

Often, health-care workers are required to notify Child Protective Services (CPS) when they treat infants who show evidence at birth of having been exposed to drugs, alcohol, or other controlled substances.

Some states go even further and require mandated reporters to report when they suspect that pregnant women are using substances so that the mother can be referred for treatment. These states include:

  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Wisconsin

Drug Abuse That Leads to Neglect

Substance abuse on the part of a parent can cause grave consequences for older children as well, in some cases even contributing to the neglect of the child.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Family life for children with one or both parents who misuse drugs or alcohol can often be chaotic and unpredictable.” Basic needs may go unmet, such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Supervision
  • Nurturing

Because of this, exposure to substance abuse can qualify as emotional neglect depending on your state. Many states define this as the use of a controlled substance that impairs the caregiver’s ability to adequately care for the child.

Exposure to Illegal Activity

Illegal drug-related activity by parents or other household members can have concerning negative effects on children. In response, many states have expanded their definitions of child abuse and neglect to include circumstances such as:

  • Manufacturing a controlled substance in the presence of a child or on-premises occupied by a child.
  • Exposing a child to chemicals or equipment for the manufacture of controlled substances.
  • Selling, distributing, or giving drugs or alcohol to a child.
  • Exposing a child to the sale or distribution of drugs.

Exposing children to illegal substances is taken very seriously. For example, in 19 states, the manufacture or possession of methamphetamine in the presence of a child is a felony, and in 16 states the possession of ANY controlled substance in the presence of a child is a felony.

Mandated reporters have a vital role in protecting children from the harmful effects of parental substance abuse, and a prompt report can even help a family get access to the resources they need. Make sure you know the requirements for mandated reporters in your state so you can report effectively. Get training.

Recognize the signs of abuse.