In the past, when the Boone County Sheriff’s Department would seize a meth lab where children were present, they would first try to place the children with family members, Sgt. Mike Stubbs said.
When children are taken from meth-producing environments and do not receive a medical exam, signs of abuse and other problems are missed, he said.
“We need to reevaluate what we do with them and make sure that we are not missing a service to them,” Stubbs said Thursday. “Maybe we are placing them too soon, before we have offered them every resource that we can.”
Stubbs and representatives from the juvenile office, Boone County Fire Protection District, children’s division and University Health Care met Thursday at Rainbow House to discuss a program in Southwest Missouri that assists children found during meth lab incidents.
Southwest Missouri’s protocol requires law enforcement officials seizing a meth lab to immediately call the county children’s division each time a child is found. The child is taken to the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri in Joplin, where the child is bathed three times and given a medical exam.
The Boone County group’s goal is to use the program as a model to establish a similar program. Locally, 10 to 15 children have been found at meth lab sites this year.
The Southwest Missouri program, which began in 2004, cost more than $51,000 to implement. Maintenance costs are expected to be about $40,000.
The Boone County Sheriff’s Department plans to prohibit children from leaving the scene with other family members, Stubbs said. Instead, it will immediately contact the juvenile office.
“This is what we are going to strive for,” he said. “All of it is part of an educational process. The only way the problem with meth and other drugs will be effectively reversed is to change the trend or the outlook.”
Children who are exposed to the chemicals used to produce meth often test positive for the drug, as if they have taken it themselves, said Greg Dagnan, director of the Children’s Center. In 2003, the child advocacy center in Tulsa County, Okla., reported that 89 percent of children brought in from meth labs tested positive for the drug.
Consequently, they exhibit the same behavioral symptoms a meth user would have, such as hyperactivity, agitation and moodiness, Stubbs said.
In addition to these problems, meth users have an increased sex drive. As a result, children in these situations are repeatedly exposed to sexual activity and are at an increased risk for sexual abuse, Dagnan said.
“If all you have is a contaminated kid, count yourself lucky,” he said. “These kids are in danger.”
Children who are exposed to a meth-producing environment their entire lives have a difficult time understanding their life is dangerous , said Linda Allen, executive director of Rainbow House.
“We have to explain to them that this is not a business,” said Allen, who has a private counseling practice. “It’s not a way of supporting a family.”
After the initial anger and grief of losing their home, possessions and parents, most children feel betrayed because their parents chose meth instead of them, Allen said.
“I’ve never counseled harder clients than meth users,” she said. “Parents say ‘it’s not affecting my kids.’ The level of denial is higher because they are so distracted by the physical withdrawal. It’s hard to set up treatment goals when they can’t think past the next five minutes.”