Drug abuse main reason for burgeoning foster care numbers
If all the child abuse in Carbon County since March were to happen on one day, it would be reported as a tragedy, a disaster, and rescuers would be called heroic. But since the process of taking children into protective custody and placing them in foster care is quiet, confidential, and case-by-case, the 30 youngsters saved over the two-month period don't rate headlines.
Tammy Ardohain, a resource family consultant, and Savannah Leonard, who works in Child Protective Services, talked about the situation and what they and their colleagues do about it.
Ms. Leonard said that the overwhelming cause of child abuse is drug abuse by parents. "We have found traces of meth in kids' hair," she said. In addition to methamphetamine, other drugs of parental choice include heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and pain pills. "Pain pills. It seems that a lot of people in Carbon County have bad backs," she noted. Some people are even crushing and snorting their pain killers these days.
Drugs often lead to violence against children, neglect, and sexual abuse. Ms. Leonard says that many instances of abuse come from visitors who drop by to buy, sell or share their drugs.
An investigation begins with a tip from a relative, friend, neighbor or teacher - someone who notices unusual traffic at odd times around the house, or kids running around at all hours. Ms. Leonard explained that Protective Services works closely with local police on gathering information, but that her job is not to make arrests. "We try to do what we can to prevent removal of children," she said.
That could mean counseling, either voluntary or court-ordered, to correct the problem of substance abuse or domestic violence.
If the remedial measures don't work, then Protective Services will get a warrant to remove the children from the home. That's when the case moves to Ms. Ardohain's division and the search for foster care begins. She said the preferred alternative is to find a family member of the parents who is willing and qualified to take custody. After that, it is a matter of finding a foster home somewhere close.
"We work really hard at keeping siblings together," Ms. Ardohain said. "It's hard enough on them without being split up." That can get complicated, because occasionally as many as four children must be accommodated at once. However, their success rate is good. She has yet to see a case of brothers or sisters being broken up in Carbon County.
That does not mean that the children stay in Carbon County. The availability of qualified foster care here is "not even close" to meeting the need, the women said. About eight or nine of every ten children taken into protective custody must be settled out of town. "There is a lot of travel involved because of that, because I have to do visits to follow up. It makes it difficult for parental visits, too."
Both women earned psychology degrees, Ms. Ardohain from Utah State University, Ms. Leonard from Weber State University. The education provides the intellectual competence for their work, but it does not provide perfect immunity to the emotional pressures of the work.
"Certain cases stick with me. They consume me," Ms. Leonard said. Ms. Ardohain, who spent 10 years as a case worker and three years in her current job, agrees.