NAS and Tough Love

There are two timely topics in this issue of News Notes—best get started!


In recent years there has been a substantial increase in prescription drug abuse and that has been paralleled by an increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).  NAS refers to the withdrawal symptoms experienced by infants exposed to drugs.  From 55% to 90% of infants will experience withdrawal at birth following exposure to drugs passed from mother to infant in the womb.

Some symptoms of withdrawal in babies may include:

  • Tremors (trembling)
  • Irritability (excessive and high-pitched crying)
  • Sleep problems
  • Tight muscle tone
  • Vomiting
  • Poor feeding
  • Stuffy nose, sneezing
  • Fever or unstable temperature

States are seeing significant increases in the numbers of NAS infants.  Tennessee has seen a ten-fold increase in the past 10 years.  The cost of stabilizing a newborn with NAS is about $63,000 in Tennessee.  One-fourth of newborns diagnosed with NAS are placed in state custody within one year of birth.

It is critical to prepare the parents for the baby’s discharge.  Infants may experience withdrawal symptoms for up to six months and parents describe this time as an “emotional roller coaster.”  The Wisconsin Association for Perinatal Care has a helpful guide for parents available here:  There is also a guide for service providers:

A good overview of NAS nationwide and treatment protocols is available here:

The federal SAMHSA agency provides the Screening and Assessment for Family Engagement, Retention, and Recovery (SAFERR) model. The SAFERR model promotes a coordinated approach involving the child welfare system, drug and alcohol services, and the courts and is available here:

Tough Love

On July 6, PBS will broadcast “Tough Love.”  The documentary follows two families, one in Seattle and one in New York, in which the parent is trying to reunite with children placed in foster care. Children in both families were removed due to neglect with substance abuse also a factor in one of the families.

“I hope Tough Love gives audiences a glimpse of the lives inside the child-welfare system, the lives of the families and workers who spend countless hours navigating this complex bureaucracy,” says filmmaker Stephanie Wang-Breal. “At the end of the day, it is a system made of people. People who are faced with complex issues like housing, welfare, domestic violence and substance abuse. People who have to overcome unimaginable obstacles to have a family again.

“Too often, adoption is seen as the only option for children in foster care. Through Hannah, Philly and Patrick’s stories, I hope to show audiences that these children have parents who love them and are willing to do whatever it takes to get them home.”

NFPN is pleased to be included in the list of PBS resources for families and is happy to spread the word about the film.  Save the date of July 6 and check your local listings for the time.  You can also help spread the word through use of the PBS Partner Toolkit available here:

Priscilla Martens, Executive Director

National Family Preservation Network    888-498-9047

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