In many states, health care providers are legally required to report pregnant women who use substances, or infants affected by prenatal substance use, to child welfare authorities. The objective of this study was to characterize obstetric and pediatric providers’ perceptions of and experiences with policies requiring mandatory reporting of prenatal substance use to child welfare authorities.
We conducted a qualitative interview study among 20 obstetric and pediatric providers to elicit participants’ perspectives about and experience with current policy requiring mandatory reporting of prenatal substance use. Two investigators used an iterative content analysis approach to code interview transcripts and identify themes.
Study participants included obstetrician/gynecologists (N = 7), midwives (N = 5), and pediatricians (N = 8). Providers noted that implementation of the policy was often targeted and that targeted screening can be biased. Most providers reported that they incorporated information about mandatory reporting policies into patient counseling about substance use. They described not knowing what happens to patients after mandatory reporting and concerns regarding unintended consequences. Providers indicated that changes are needed to improve outcomes for patients and their families and suggested increased research into best practices, more funding for social services, and eliminating the policy altogether.
Health care providers expressed concern about the targeted screening process used to identify women with substance use whose children are reported to child welfare authorities. Most providers believed that mandatory reporting processes could be modified in ways that would support the health of women and children.