Thursday, October 18, 2007
Methamphetamine and Children
I have posted part of a paper that I wrote for one of my master's classes. I attended a Methamphetamine lab detection class hosted by another department recently and this reminded me of this paper and the horrors inflicted on children by the manufacture and abuse of this drug. An interesting side note is that they believe that the lack of penetration into the Urban areas, which runs counter to previous predictions, is due to the fact that street gangs are too lazy to be part of the manufacturing process and they would rather sell crack for less of a profit then deal with acquiring the ingredients and participate in the manufacturing process.
Here is a few sections of the paper:
Methamphetamine use is particularly concerning as it pertains to the family unit in which the child resides. There is a perceptible increase in cases involving methamphetamine use by a child’s guardian that necessitates the removal of the child from the home and placed into a safer environment. This action is always a last resort for the welfare agency involved and a sign of the destruction of a family that use of this illicit drug can cause. “Overall, 37 percent of the increase in out of home placements nationwide was attributable to methamphetamine, according to the NaCO survey. With counties with populations above 500,000, the increase was 54 percent reflecting the fact that methamphetamine is no longer mainly a rural problem, but an urban one as well. More than 300 countries in 13 states participated in the survey” (Mothers addicted to meth face losing their children, 2005, p. 2).
The long term prognosis for families affected by methamphetamine is extremely poor. Unlike most issues that cause child welfare services to become involved, mothers that use methamphetamine have an extremely high rate of permanent removal of their children from their care. Methamphetamine use by mothers, in which law enforcement and child welfare agencies become involved, tend to cause permanent dissolution of the families. “The reality…is that in 48 percent of these counties there are more families that cannot be reunified, 56 percent say the families take much longer to reunify than in the past, and in 27 percent of the counties, officials say recidivism is so great with meth users that the reunification of these families does not last” (Mothers addicted to meth face losing their children, 2005, p. 2).
Law Enforcement Concerns
The destruction to families and the increase in violent criminal acts that methamphetamine use is known to cause, has now become a major concern to law enforcement. “…NaCO also released a survey of law enforcement, in which 58 percent of the counties said methamphetamine was their largest drug problem. Next were cocaine (19 percent of the counties said this was the biggest problem), marijuana (17 percent), and heroin (3 percent)” (Mothers addicted to meth face losing their children, 2005, p. 3).
When law enforcement officers encounter a methamphetamine production lab in a home containing children there should be immediate thought given to obtaining medical treatment and protection to these children. “The danger to children becomes obvious when a methamphetamine lab explodes, killing or injuring them, or when authorities discover neglected children as a result of their parent’s methamphetamine use” (Manning, 1999, p. 2). Law enforcement officers should not stop at the obvious injuries to the child since even an apparently healthy looking child made be suffering from aliments that have not fully presented themselves. “…authorities have found babies crawling on carpets where toxic chemicals used to make methamphetamine have spilled. They have seen children cooking their own meals in the same microwave ovens that their parents used to produce methamphetamine. Also, they have discovered chemicals used in methamphetamine production stored in open or improperly sealed containers in areas where children played” (Manning, 1999, p. 2). A child found in these conditions should necessitate companion charges of child abuse and or child endangerment and child welfare groups need to be brought into the investigation to intervene on the child’s behalf.
Child Protection Strategy for Those Victimized by Methamphetamine
The first priority in protecting children victimized by parents making and using methamphetamine, is to increase the legal penalties for parents who perform either of these two acts around their children. For example California strengthened their laws, “…defendants found guilty of manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of children under 16 face a 2-year prison enhancement. The methamphetamine producer can expect an additional 5-year penalty enhancement when a child is injured as a result of the methamphetamine production process” (Manning, 1999, p. 2).
The second step to decrease methamphetamine’s impact on children of producers and users is to create a program that unites the offices of law enforcement, district attorneys and social service providers. The goal of the program would be to cross-train these three agencies so that they may provide a unified response to incidents of methamphetamine production and use around children. A model program of this approach can be found in the San Diego County’s program call The Drug Endangered Children Program (DEC). “Besides enforcement, DEC studies and documents the environmental hazards that children are exposed to in these methamphetamine “kitchens of death.” Health care workers establish the medical procedures and document the testing of these children. Prosecutors then use this information to add child endangerment charges and new penalty enhancements targeting methamphetamine manufacturers” (Manning, 1999, p. 3).
This model program could easily be implemented in Illinois and more importantly locally in Cook County so that it can be in place to handle the increasing number of methamphetamine related incidents. The existence of successful multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency programs in Illinois such as: NEMERT, ALTERTS, MCAT and HIDA, demonstrate the viability of a program such as DEC that can be created in this state.