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Substance exposure is thought to contribute to reports of suspected maltreatment made to child protective services (CPS) at or shortly after birth. There are limited data, however, on whether clinicians are more likely to report black and Hispanic substance-exposed infants compared with white infants.


We examined racial differences in diagnosed substance exposure and subsequent maltreatment reports by using linked birth, hospital discharge, and CPS records. Diagnostic codes were used to document substance exposure; CPS records provided information on maltreatment reports. Prevalence of infant exposure was calculated by race or ethnicity, substance type, and sociodemographic covariates. We estimated racial differences in maltreatment reporting among substance-exposed infants using multivariable models.


In a 2006 population-based California birth cohort of 474 071 black, Hispanic, and white infants, substance exposure diagnoses were identified for 1.6% of infants (n = 7428). Exposure varied significantly across racial groups (P < .001), with the highest prevalence observed among black infants (4.1%) and the lowest among Hispanic infants (1.0%). Among white and Hispanic infants, the most frequently observed substances were amphetamine and cannabis; for black infants, cannabis was the most common, followed by cocaine. After adjusting for sociodemographic and pregnancy factors, we found that substance-exposed black and Hispanic infants were reported at significantly lower or statistically comparable rates to substance-exposed white infants.


Although we were unable to address potential racial and ethnic disparities in screening for substances at birth, we found no evidence that racial disparities in infant CPS reports arise from variable responses to prenatal substance exposure.

Copyright © 2016 by the American Academy of Pediatrics.