Through A Child’S Eyes: The Unintended Victims

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When meth, alcohol and other illegal substances are used, the domestic situations make it very clear that children are indeed the unintended innocent victims of their parent’s, guardian’s or caregiver’s actions. The children often suffer from physical and sexual abuse as well as recurring neglect. Older kids are forced into looking after younger siblings and often assume the role of “parent.”

Meth is the most notorious when it comes to allowing children of users to become involved in criminal behavior while assisting with the “business,” which usually results in making the children afraid of law enforcement and other authority figures.

The kids will usually end up taking care of their parents as well. In these situations the kids may be asked to steal items used for manufacturing drugs or to stand guard (possibly armed) while the adult does.

Kids may be left alone and hungry for days on end as the adult’s behavior becomes unpredictable when they suffer from extreme irritability, paranoia, and/or heightened sexual arousal from a days-long high. These circumstances put the kids at extreme risk for developing mental health and substance abuse disorders of their own.

Then there is the problem of being exposed to the environmental issues associated with dangerous and poisonous chemicals. Not to mention the possibility of fire or explosions that may occur in meth labs. Several young children have been severely maimed or have died as a result of extensive burns received during such events.

Some observations made by law enforcement officials and Child Protective Service personnel include: A toddler covered in battery grease was rescued from a meth lab, other chemicals were found within reach of the youngster; a child sits next to a “cook” in progress; a 2-year-old was living in a filthy environment and tested positive for meth in a urine screen. These are typical findings when a meth house is busted and little children are involved.

As these children grow and are placed in foster homes the foster parents are encountering both physical and emotional behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Several studies have been conducted in various states around the country and all come to the same basic conclusions: Children involved in these environments develop high levels of fear, rejection, isolation and parent-child role reversal. In the home these children likely encountered secrecy, mistrust, resentment of authority and selfishness due to parental attitudes and extreme behaviors. It is very difficult for the child to trust anyone. Promises are often broken. Lying, cheating and stealing are taught as “acceptable behavior.” Logic, common sense and the basic concept of right and wrong are turned upside down.

According to All Positive Options A Profile of the Meth Child, in the U.S. anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of meth labs will have children involved. Over 500 babies are born each year addicted to meth. Communities are profoundly impacted and society will be paying the price for generations to come.

When a child is taken from a meth home they often experience terror, fear and confusion. Many are thin, hungry and have been neglected. Several will suffer from respiratory problems and may even have toxic residue on their skin. Those whose mothers used meth during pregnancy could suffer from brain damage or even pre-birth strokes and nearly all will suffer from sort of emotional problems.

Contamination caused by a meth lab has a devastating effect, especially on the children who are more likely to absorb the toxic chemicals through their skin. Add to that poor ventilation and surface residue on almost everything they touch and eat. Potential damage to a child’s future medical and mental outlook is still unknown, as early exposure victims are just now reaching adulthood.

Common symptoms of children exposed to meth chemicals include: watering and discharging of fluids from the eyes, blurry vision, skin irritations, sneezing and coughing, nausea and vomiting, chest pain or difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, rapid heart rate, extreme irritability, dark colored urine causing jaundice and a notable decrease in mental capabilities.

What is being done?

Arizona has developed a Drug Endangered Children’s program where DES, Child Protective Services and local law enforcement have formed a partnership to protect those children found in a meth environment. Safety and protection are the main focus of this group. The first step is to get the child cleaned up and then schedule an appropriate medical exam and possibly a forensic interview. There are now several facilities in Arizona that feature a child-friendly atmosphere. Gila County has one in Payson.

According to a Phoenix PD detective, children who come from a meth habitat don’t have marks or bruises on them like physically abused children do. They tend to be more silent about their situation, but are more likely to be hyper or suffer from ADHD. They live with a multitude of hazards throughout the home. Many times the kids are dirty and have not bathed or showered. Often times the kids are used to help in the cooking of meth, maybe even distribution and or sales of product.

A couple of shocking statistics:

In Minnesota, 33 percent of meth users have small children. (Meth in Minnesota)

In Hawaii, 5 percent of all infants are exposed to meth before birth. (All Positive Options)

All information was gathered on the Internet through the following sources:

AllPositiveOptions.com

Arizona’s Drug Endangered Children program

Meth Awareness and Prevention Project of South Dakota

About.com

Meth in Minnesota: The Costly Addiction by Cara Hetland of Minnesota Public Radio

Drug Endangered Children of California

For questions or more information on the Gila County Meth Coalition, contact chair, Claudia DalMolin at the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, (928) 425-4440; co-chair, Bianca DalMolin, (928) 701-1790; facilitator, Misty Cisneros, (928) 425-1879; or media liaison, Lu DuBois, (928) 425-4440.

The Meth Messenger — presented by the Gila County Meth Coalition

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