‘Jaidon’s Law’ crackdown on SC drug-abusing parents clears hurdle

A SC Senate panel OK’d a bill Wednesday that would make it more difficult to return children to their drug-abusing parents by requiring the state’s child-welfare agency and judges to consider whether those parents still are using drugs.

The bill, called Jaidon’s Law, came about after 22-month-old Jaidon Morris died in 2008 from a drug overdose a week after he was removed from a foster home and returned to his biological parents, who had a history of drug problems.

On Wednesday, a Senate panel approved the bill, sending it to the full Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. A similar bill passed the House last year but went nowhere in the Senate.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg, said the story of Jaidon was a “horror story.” The child had “evidently just been kept in a playpen ... and hadn’t been hugged or cuddled” until his foster mother, Dione Scotti of Spartanburg, nurtured him.

“I’m all about sending kids back to their biological parents,” Forrester said. “But, in this case, there was no drug testing for the parents.”

Jaidon was taken from his parents and placed in a foster home for 10 months after being hospitalized in 2007 with a fractured skull and retinal hemorrhaging, injuries sustained while in the care of a substance-abusing relative. After 10 months with Scotti and her husband, a court ordered Jaidon to be returned to his parents. The toddler subsequently died from an overdose of hydrocodone, an opiate and the active ingredient in the cough syrup prescribed to his grandmother. His grandmother and father are serving prison sentences on charges related to his death.

If it becomes law, the bill would require drug-abusing parents whose children are taken away from them to be tested for drugs before a judge considers whether to return their children to them.

The bill also would give the state Department of Social Services more authority to end or suspend contact between parents and their children when that contact is harmful to a child. The department also would be required to ask the court to terminate parental rights if the parent or guardian fails to complete a drug-treatment program.

The bill and others related to Social Services are gaining momentum this year amid ongoing Senate oversight hearings into the state’s troubled child-welfare agency.

In a phone interview with The State Wednesday, Scotti said she is happy to see some movement on Jaidon’s Law.

“But I’m just nervous that it’s not going to get through again,” she said. “It’s running out of time. It’s very hard when there is a lot of stuff up on the plate, and you say, ‘How can we compete?’”

“This is something that is close to my heart,” she said. “It’s holding people accountable.”