With Missouri leading the nation in methamphetamine production, an initiative was launched Tuesday to help children left in the wake of meth lab busts.
Many of the 500 children found in Missouri meth labs each year suffer from damage to internal organs and sometimes will die from the exposure, according to a statement from the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association.
The two-year state initiative, backed by $250,000 in federal funds, seeks to better coordinate the care of children found during meth lab busts. The initiative calls for a protocol detailing how law enforcement, social services and other agencies involved in meth lab busts care for the children.
The health issues of children found during the busts can be overlooked when jurisdictions lack a set protocol for helping children, according to the juvenile justice association’s “Children in Meth Labs” project. For example, even after they are found, children can be left in contaminated clothing, said Ashley Smethers, with the child shelter Rainbow House.
Association representatives said at the first meeting of the initiative steering committee on Tuesday that Missouri should require immediate medical exams for children found in homes with drugs. They also suggested the clarification of agency roles and uniform training on how to care for children found during meth lab busts.
Children found during such busts in Boone County are taken to the hospital only if they are obviously contaminated, said Detective Britt Shea of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
“There is no way to tell for sure if it is contaminated,” Shea said. “We look for acute symptoms, like chemical burns and odors.”
He said that, if children are not obviously contaminated, they are taken to Rainbow House.
However, contamination is not always visible, as the toxins may be ingested or inhaled, according to the association. Children have a higher risk of contamination from meth chemicals because of their smaller size and higher rate of metabolism and respiration rates. Children separated from arrested parents can also suffer mental health problems, association representatives said.
Children also have a higher risk of contamination because they risk consuming meth chemicals that are often kept in unlabeled, easily accessible containers. One such victim, a toddler in Joplin, died after drinking fuel out of a soda bottle, Sen. Kit Bond said.
“The children need our help, but sometimes they get lost in the shuffle,” Bond said.
Even when the money for the initiative, spearheaded by association and MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs, runs out, protocol and training information will still be available on a yet-to-be-launched Web site, said Julie Cole Agee, the association’s executive director.
She said if money is still needed after two years, individual agencies can apply for state grants for further funding.
The steering committee will meet three more times over the next two years, Agee said.