Finding ways to help the innocent

Over the last two decades, the number of drug-affected infants has been growing. It is estimated that as many as one in 10 babies born in this country has suffered some degree of drug exposure. Due to the short time mothers spent in the hospital after giving birth, many of the infant’s symptoms are less likely to be recognized

— From the state Guardian Ad Litem Web site

When the 30th Judicial District Guardian Ad Litem program holds a workshop this week addressing the issues of substance abuse and social risk factors in infants, chances are good that too few professionals will show up. That’s a shame, because abuse of unborn children remains a major problem in this country, one that gets too little attention.


Everyone today supports tough measures to punish those who abuse children. When one sees or hears about infants or toddlers with broken bones, bruises, burns and other horrific injuries, it’s easy to get outraged. For some reason, our society still doesn’t treat unborn children with the same measure of sympathy. That may be a long time coming, but there is a lot to learn about how we can help infants who have the misfortune of being born to mothers who abuse both legal and illegal drugs. These children begin life with physical and emotional problems that are often difficult to ever overcome.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is perhaps the most well-known and common disorder from drug use that affects infants. Studies suggest that prenatal exposure to alcohol is the most common cause of brain injury in children. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of women ages 20 to 35 have consumed more than five drinks at one sitting 12 or more times a year. If a woman usually doesn’t know about her pregnancy until she is two or three months into it, then the odds are that 20 percent of babies are exposed to binges during the first trimester.

Children with FAS encounter many problems during their withdrawal from alcohol, some of them long term. Among the most common are memory problems, poor social and planning skills, difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy and other emotional problems. Often FAS is misdiagnosed , which can exacerbate its treatment.

Illegal drug use among pregnant women poses another set of problems for infants. Among the most common is hypersensitivity to stimuli, which means light, bright colors, touch and loud noises can be unbearable for these children. Drug-exposed children also have unusually limp or unusually stiff muscles. These problems are most severe during withdrawal from the drug, but can last for some time.

There are programs available to help mothers take the right steps during their pregnancy, but a great need remains for those willing to help abused, neglected and dependent children. That’s what the Guardian Ad Litem program does. GAL is run through the Administrative Office of the Courts and exists to provide trained, independent advocates to represent and promote the best interest of abused, neglected, and dependent children. GAL recruits, screens, and trains volunteers to gather and present facts to the court in every abuse and neglect case in North Carolina.

Children in our community and your county need help.

(For more information about becoming a trained Guardian Ad Litem volunteer for children in Western North Carolina or to learn more about the Oct. 27 workshop in Waynesville, call 828.837.8003 . Local GAL numbers are 828.452.4129 in Waynesville and 828.488.6224 in Bryson City.)

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