The examination of a policy that holds mothers criminally liable for substance abuse during pregnancy recently earned six UT undergraduates first place honors in a statewide competition.
Catherine Arwood, Caitlin Bowers, Rachel Brown, Anastasia Friedrich, Jordan Frye, and Kelsilynne Taylor—all members of the College of Social Work honors program—presented their research last month at the Social Work Day on the Hill in Nashville. They won first place among all bachelor’s-level social work programs in the state. They competed against six other undergraduate social work programs.
The students’ research examined Public Policy 820, a law the Tennessee General Assembly enacted in April 2014 that permits the criminal prosecution of assault for mothers with babies born addicted to or harmed by illegal narcotics taken while pregnant. The students recommended alternatives Tennessee can adopt to address the problem effectively.
The number of infants born in Tennessee with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome has dramatically increased between 1990 and 2010, according to the students’ research. The infants require longer hospital stays and exhibit other symptoms, including excessive crying, seizures, slow weight gain, hyperactive reflexes, and tremors.
The students’ research found the state policy criminalizes substance abuse disorder, disenfranchises low-income women, has led to a greater number of home births, financially taxes the penal system, and neglects effective alternatives to incarceration.
They recommended that state officials enact policies that promote substance abuse treatment, allocate greater funding for drug treatment facilities, and support long-term intensive case management. Adopting this model would reduce the overall financial burden for addressing Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome while promoting healthy living for families and keeping families together, the students said.
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