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Meth use affects Alabama’s children, causes rise in abuse, foster-care casescomment (0)

August 3, 2006

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

Aside from the drug users themselves, perhaps no one has suffered more from the methamphetamine epidemic than Alabama’s children.

According to Freida Baker, deputy director of family and children’s services for the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR), in 2001, only 3.9 percent of admissions to foster care in Alabama were due to substance abuse.
By 2004, however, nearly 20 percent of admissions into care were a result of family substance abuse. Currently there are more than 6,000 children in foster care in Alabama, she said.

Paul Miller, executive director of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH), said that drug abuse was the No. 1 reason children came into ABCH’s care last year.

“The reason may be a combination of things, but 35 percent of children who were removed from their custodian were removed because of drug abuse,” he said. “That figure alone speaks pretty highly to the impact that drug abuse is having on children referred to us.”

Law-enforcement officials have also seen the impact of meth on children, often reporting the presence of children where meth labs are located, according to DeKalb County Sheriff Cecil Reed, a member of Allen Memorial Baptist Church, Fort Payne, in DeKalb Baptist Association. The conditions surrounding these children are appalling, he said.

“The children are usually dirty. There isn’t proper food in the home, and the house is always filthy,” Reed said.
“Often they are left alone and not properly taken care of.”   

While one of the immediate dangers to children in a meth-lab home is the toxic and volatile nature of the chemicals used in the process of cooking meth, children can also be at risk for ingesting the substances. “Our worst case was where we almost lost a small child who had drunk Kool-Aid that had meth mixed in it,” Reed said.

Another major concern related to the cooking process is the long-term effect on children exposed to these chemicals, said Gregory Borland, assistant special agent in charge of Alabama for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“There is no way to anticipate what the long-term effect of exposure to these chemicals is going to be,” Borland said.

In the short-term, children living in homes where methamphetamine is being made may display some of the same symptoms as users, including rashes, headaches or slurred speech, Baker said.

Aside from the physical dangers, the emotional and psychological dangers are serious as well. Parents who are methamphetamine users often experience violent thoughts and behaviors, hallucinations, insomnia, paranoia and rages. These side effects can provoke violent reactions to otherwise innocent behaviors in children.

“These behaviors, much less the substance themselves, put the children at risk,” Baker said.

Reed said when he accompanies DHR workers to investigate reports of domestic abuse, it is common to see drug abuse as well.

According to the article “Behind the Drug: The Child Victims of Meth Labs,” published on the National District Attorneys Association Web site and co-authored by Mark Ells, Barbara Sturgis and Gregg Wright, methamphetamine users can quickly build up a tolerance for the drug so that each time the drug is used, more meth is required to achieve a pleasurable high.

Because the end of a high can be so unpleasant, the methamphetamine abuser may take other drugs — often alcohol — to ease the crash.

“After a binge, abusers can sleep for days, leaving their children unsupervised,” the article stated. “[The children] often miss school and older children are put in the position of caring for younger children.”

Baker said people need to know that methamphetamine addiction is a “crippling sort of addiction” that impacts entire families and communities.

“It has been the reason that too many children have been removed from their homes,” she said, adding that more foster homes are needed.

More empathy for these families is needed as well, Baker said.

“Children want their parents to get well, and we have seen families stepping up to the plate to take care of the children,” she said. “Children love and need their families and long for the community to help support that.

“Though the public at large is frustrated with these families, they have to have advocates, too. The challenge we face right now is to continue to craft and cultivate resources for treatment for these families.”

One Huntsville Baptist is reaching out to children removed from meth-lab homes, also known as meth orphans.

Lee Marshall, founder of Kids to Love, has begun the Meth Orphan Project in north Alabama.

“When a child is pulled from a meth-lab and placed into foster care, they are unable to take anything with them because everything in the home is contaminated. That means no clothes and no toys,” said Marshall, a member of Willowbrook Baptist Church, Huntsville, in Madison Baptist Association.

In an effort to help meth orphans, the program provides vouchers to social workers to provide for each child.

“It’s the necessities that we provide — diapers, formula, bottles, clothes — whatever that child needs as he or she heads into the foster-care system,” Marshall said.

To date, the program has helped 25 children rescued from meth-lab homes, she noted. Kids to Love currently serves 11 north Alabama counties, and it is seeking to expand the Meth Orphan Program statewide.

Kids to Love also launched the See Meth Stop Meth statewide, anonymous tip line in November 2005. Since the tip line was opened, the foundation has received more than 200 tips of meth use or production, with 163 of those tips reporting that children are living in these homes.

“The foundation has received tips from 23 Alabama counties, and the tips have helped local law enforcement launch more than 150 investigations,” Marshall said. “To date, we have confirmed 48 arrests.”

She said the goal of the Meth Orphan Project is threefold.

“We are rescuing the children from meth labs, meeting the immediate needs of the meth orphans and recruiting to find loving homes for these children,” Marshall said. “True religion is caring for the widows and the orphans, and that’s what we are doing.”

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