Meth busts, drug abuse create pain for children
The bust of a methamphetamine lab and the suspects associated with the illicit activity causes significant pain for all involved parties.
However, people may forget about all the individuals outside of the initial bust impacted by meth and related drug problems. Particularly, the children.
According to officials at the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, since meth use and drug busts involving clandestine laboratories have increased, so has the number of children who have come into the agency's system.
In fact, the number of youngsters involved with the DCFS placements has increased in some places as much as 50 percent.
"The last two years it has really increased here in the eastern and southeastern part of the state," noted Beverly Hart, regional director for DCFS.
Drugs and alcohol related cases have always been a problem, but the increase is alarming, particularly as it relates to meth.
The numbers on the charts show the rapid increases.
Total referrals are up substantially and new foster care placements are also climbing at a high rate.
"We are in dire need of new foster families," stated Hart.
However, talking about statistics and numbers does not bring the reality home to most people.
The majority of law abiding citizens in the county have little clue as the seamy side of the drug culture and what it does to people.
While many drugs are addictive and cause problems, few are like meth. Even alcohol is taking a back seat to the meth problem.
"I had one mother involved in a meth bust who just wanted us to take her kids," indicated Boni Seals, the child protective supervisor at DCFS. "She just didn't want to bother with them."
Methamphetamine is highly addictive; in fact, some people become hooked right from the first time they use the controlled substance.
As with most drugs, meth displaces the importance of everything else in life, including the responsibility for dealing with offspring in the home.
After a meth bust, case workers are often confronted with some of the most difficult situations they face anywhere. The DCFS workers often have to enter the home immediately after the bust, often before it is decontaminated by authorities.
"There are three levels of priorities when dealing with risks for children," explained Hart. "In an immediate risk, we have an hour or less in which to act. "
"A level two problem commits us to getting there within 24 hours. A level three problem gives us a little more time because the child is in no immediate danger. Meth busts are always a level one priority," continued Hart.
For the average person, it is frequently difficult to imagine removing a child from a home, no matter how bad the situation may be.
However, in meth bust incidents, the complications are greater not only because the parents are usually hauled off and booked into the county jail, but because the illicit drug operations contaminate an entire house and everything located inside the dwelling.
"We basically have to detoxify the child," pointed out Seals. "These kids are exposed throughout the house to the chemicals.
"We are often handed the child by law enforcement officers, then we have to remove their clothes, which are often contaminated," added Seals. "We then have to take them to the hospital to have them checked over by people they don't know. Then they are put in with a bunch of strangers at a foster home or a shelter. Imagine how traumatic all this is to a young child."
In addition, some children are directly exposed to the drug. Newborns are frequently born addicted when pregnant mothers use meth and, in some cases, older kids get a hold of drugs in the household.
Another aspect of meth and drug use is the sex abuse that often occurs in households where the related problems are present.
"There's just lots of sex abuse in these homes," indicated Michelle Ardohain, a social worker with the department. "People who use and make these drugs often have many others hanging around their house. Usually the abuse doesn't come from the family but from others that are there."
Once youngsters are removed from a home, it tends to be difficult for many mothers and fathers involved in the methamphetamine culture to get the custody of their children back.
The employees at the department of child and family services must follow federal time period guidelines. The federal rules in question are strict and unyielding.
"Parents of children who are 3 years old and younger who have their kids taken from their homes by DCFS have only eight months in which to rehab themselves to where they can get the kids back," pointed out Hart.
"If the children are 3 or older, they usually have a year and, sometimes, they can get an extension of three months to that. But it's unusual. Courts in Utah are not often will to go for the additional time," indicated Hart.
The sad part is that many of the individuals involved in illicit drug use relapse four to six times before they finally get clean - if they ever manage to accomplish the process.
Few individuals involved in meth use can succeed in becoming clean in less than the time allotted. Consequently, the mothers and fathers who have used meth may lose their children for good.
"We do whatever we can to get the kids placed back with parents. But basically, it comes down to their commitment to clean themselves up," stated Hart.
As the methamphetamine problem increases, so do the ramifications.
It used to be that the child and family services agency had trouble finding room in foster families and adoptive homes for older children.
But the numbers and drug related problems are becoming so great that department's case workers are currently having trouble placing babies in foster families and adoptive homes.
"The numbers and incidents have increased so much," said Ardohain. "There used to be slow times for this, such as during the summer and holiday time. But those slow periods don't exist anymore."
In addition, prescription drug problems are starting to impact families residing throughout the local area as well.
Often, prescription medications are traded for meth or visa versa.
The related types of drugs are becoming a bigger problem all the time, according to the department of child and family services representatives.
The answer to the mounting drug problems is complicated and tied in with many social factors.
"I see it as being tied in a great deal with poverty," indicated Hart. "People need supports to fall back on. They need education."
Attitudes about child and family services department, what the state agency does and how the employees complete the job are sometimes viewed by the public as being arrogant and uncaring.
However, the DCFS employees maintain that they do not feel that way at all - the department staff members just want to help people solve their problems.
"We don't look down on clients at all. We just want to help them. They may have made wrong choices," concluded Ardohain.