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The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled, unanimously, that the state may not find a newborn to be abused or neglected based solely on evidence of prenatal drug exposure without evidence of actual harm to the child. In New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services v. A.L., the court overturned a lower court’s finding that a newborn was abused or neglected based primarily on tests of a stool sample shortly after birth, which was positive for cocaine metabolites. The court’s interpretation of the applicable statute wisely forces the state child protective agency to build a stronger case that a newborn is at risk of future harm before making a finding of abuse and neglect, which might justify temporary or permanent removal of the child and even termination of parental rights.



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