Any time I’ve heard of or dealt with Child Protective Services, the case always seem to be too little, too late. So often, we hear about the children who weren’t taken away in time. We hear the horror stories of parents who were reported on but never actually observed. As a person who has worked with inner-city children, I’ve seen abuse and neglect go on long after CPS has been contacted. It’s gotten so bad that one friend warned me against contacting Child Protective Services at all. “You’ll just be getting your hopes up. The child has to land in the hospital before they’ll even make a visit to the house.”

So imagine my surprise when people were charging that CPS was overstepping their bounds! They’re doing too much? Are you sure?

The New York Times and my colleague Mollie Hemingway are talking about a practice in New York where state social workers will remove children from homes if their parents are found in possession of or admit to using marijuana. Even though the amounts found are too small to qualify as a misdemeanor, any pot at all can get a child removed from your home. Some believe that this policy is overreaching and punishing parents who aren’t truly neglectful.

I have to say, no matter how sanctimonious and judgmental I sound, I have no sympathy for a parent whose child is taken away because they choose to do drugs, no matter how frequently or how minor. There are plenty of arguments to be made about the legalization of marijuana or the minimal effect it has. Those aren’t the points I’m debating. The fact is that marijuana is illegal, plain and simple. As long as its illegal, parents need to be responsible for putting the safety and care of their children ahead of whatever personal urges they have.

My issue here isn’t with these people’s drug use; it’s with their priorities. We should all know that using drugs, any drug at all, could potentially cost us our children. Any time you commit an illegal action, jail is a possible outcome. If a person chooses to gamble their freedom simply to use a controlled substance, that’s their prerogative. But once you have children, you aren’t just risking your freedom, you’re jeopardizing your children’s health, safety and home. I’m sorry but those things should not be worth more than your high. By continuing to use drugs after you’ve given birth, you’re risking custody of your children. I can’t believe that someone could gamble like that.

There was one very disturbing fact in the Times piece. Defense lawyers note that while marijuana use is twice as high among whites, Caucasian parents are rarely facing charges of neglect due to drug use. They don’t provide any numbers, but if this is true, it’s the only part of the story that I think implicates the Administration of Child Services in wrongdoing. Removing children from homes where drug use is occurring is something that I have no problem with, but failing to apply that rule to all parents is a major issue and one that I would like to see researched further. Preventing drug use around children is an admirable goal, but not if its used to discriminate against minority parents.