The Child Protective Services department in Sacramento County, Calif., is under fire this week after a report in a local newspaper criticized how it handled a child who died of a drug overdose from drinking his own mother’s breast milk.
The Sacramento Bee filed a public information request to find out why the county’s CPS had a tragically inadequate response when the child, then four months old, was brought to the hospital in April of 2012 “lethargic” from an overdose of methadone.
The baby, Ryder Salmen (pictured), was born with methadone withdrawal symptoms.
Five months later, in September 2012, the infant died. The cause of death was determined to be an overdose of methadone combined with the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the painkiller Opana. The child had consumed all of the drugs through his mother’s breast milk.
The child’s mother, Sarah Ann Stephens, 32, had earlier been warned top breast feeding her baby. Stephens now faces a murder charge along with two counts of child endangerment.
When Ryder was taken to the hospital in April, 2012, a CPS worker noted him as being at-risk as a “drug-exposed infant.” In such cases, the CPS is then required to draw up a safety plan for the child if it is to remain in its home and not be taken from the mother.
The safety plan, which was not included in the public records that the Bee obtained, took three months to gain approval from CPS supervisors after a social worker drew it up.
"Is it their policy to wait three months to approve safety assessments for the children of drug-addicted mothers?" said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.
The safety assessment was approved on August 12, 2012. The same day, just weeks before he died, CPS drew up a second safety assessment which said that Ryder was unlikely to be mistreated again.
Shortly after that second assessment was handed in, a police officer in Citrus Heights, Calif., where Stephens lived with her ill-fated baby, filed another risk report with CPS. The report said that he had cited Stephens for child endangerment when she ran her car off the road with Ryder in the back seat.
SOURCES: Sacramento Bee, Associated Press