Chanetto Rivers

NYC Reaches $75K Settlement With Black Mother Separated from Newborn After Positive Marijuana Test

New York City is making amends with a traumatized mother. The city’s child welfare agency has reached a $75,000 settlement with Chanetto Rivers who was separated from her child, after giving birth, for smoking marijuana, the New York Daily News reports.

According to an Aug. 2021 federal discrimination lawsuit, the Bronx native and her newborn were drug-tested without her consent. The test came back positive for cannabis, prompting the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to illegally separate Rivers from her newborn.

At the time, cannabis was legal in the state and state law forbids family separation on that basis alone.

A judge tried to intervene on Rivers’ behalf, but ACS continued to pursue the case for months, before finally withdrawing the charges. Rivers says she filed the lawsuit, not just for herself but for other Black families going through these issues.

“I didn’t just bring this lawsuit for myself, but for every Black family that ACS has ripped apart,” Rivers said.

“They know what they did was wrong. And now, they’re on notice.”

Rivers told doctors and nurses in the maternity ward that she smoked marijuana just hours before giving birth to her third child. Forty-eight hours later, Rivers’ lawyers say the agency instructed the hospital not to release the baby to their client. It was almost a week and numerous trips to court later that a judge finally granted Rivers custody of her son.

Rivers was further subjected to parenting and anger management classes along with more drug tests. ACS caseworkers also showed up to her home without notice at various hours of the day. Her legal team said she was being targeted because she is Black.

“We are glad that Ms. Rivers was able to call attention to ACS’s deplorable history of racial discrimination against marginalized families,” case lead counsel and director of the Impact Litigation Practice, Niji Jain said, according to The Imprint. “ACS continued to rely on outdated racist stereotypes and tropes about Black parents.”

NYC’s Health + Hospitals has fought to get rid of drug testing on new and expecting mothers in public hospitals as the practice can lead to newborns being placed in foster care and separated from their mothers during a delicate stage in the infant’s life.

The city’s public hospitals, totaling 11, now need written detailed consent for toxicology testing during pregnancy.