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More support needed for pregnant women who use alcohol, drugs: ACU report

By Megan Gorrey / Canberra Times, Canberra

Women who use alcohol and drugs while pregnant have been let down by a lack of treatment options and long-term support services, a report has found.

Researchers from the Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Child Protection Studies looked at the impact of identifying alcohol and drug use among pregnant women, their partners and families.

They pointed to evidence that maternal substance use was linked to negative outcomes for unborn babies including foetal respiratory distress, pre-term delivery, low birth weight and higher infant mortality.

The report said while few longer-term impacts had been discovered, substance abuse among parents was often associated with high rates of child maltreatment and involvement with the child protective services.

Researchers looked at whether an increasing focus on the rights of a foetus impacted on the treatment and care provided to expectant mothers who took alcohol and drugs.

They found, in a report released on Wednesday, that screening for substance use to identify any negative health affects on the foetus was unlikely to improve health outcomes for pregnant women who used alcohol and drugs.

Mothers involved in the child protection system were more likely to have mental health problems, more children and greater economic woes, researchers said.

They were also likely to be younger, with a history of homelessness, sex work or jail time and fewer social supports.

“The greater the number of adversities, the less likely they are to be caring for their children,” the report said.

It said Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures shows five ACT children were admitted to out of home care within seven days of their birth and eight were admitted within eight days in 2012-13.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin said the research showed pregnant women who used drugs and alcohol faced significant barriers to accessing care and support.

“Pregnancy is often the best time to address maternal alcohol and drug use,” she said.

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