The Children Left Behind
They're Tragic Victims Of What Drugs Can Do To Local Families
This is Part 4 of a series of articles focusing on educating the community about drug use in Valley County.
Sometimes the smallest voices are forgotten. Unfortunately drugs can take not only your emotions of joy away, they can also take away the passion for children. While many tend to focus on their addictions and habit when it comes to drugs, children are left up to their own survival.
Statistics in Valley County show a startling jump in the last six years on the number of cases involving children being placed in temporary care when drugs are involved. The cases for the month of February 2009 show only five involved with drugs out of 12 for the month. Last month, February 2014, that number climbed to 26 cases involved with drugs out of 42.
Why has this number climbed? Sarah Corvally, administrator of the division of child and family services, explained that they have seen an increase throughout the state. While they haven't gathered data to see if it's more concentrated to the Bakken, she said that there probably was some correlation to to the rise in drugs and money. The increase in cases have raised the workload.
"We've been developing some things with the governor's office on what our needs are and how to meet those needs," Corvally said.
Some of their greatest needs are foster parents to place these children after they are taken from their homes. She explained that they have to follow state and federal laws to meet the needs of children, but kinship relationships with children are preferred when children are displaced. She explained that these people might not necessarily be a blood relative, but they've built a relationship with the child that could help with the trauma of being taken from their parents.
They are also in need of service providers who might help serve children. Kids who are taken into the foster system, or placed in temporary care go through a full screening. They are provided with dental checkups, physical health services and if needed mental health services to help with trauma. Sometimes finding these services available in rural areas can be a task.
Children aren't always taken from what some might picture as a stereotypical drug house. Corvally explained that some home environments could be pretty clean, but maybe the children are left unsupervised running in the street or are just left up to their own for meals and other needs.
Child Welfare Information Gateway collected data nationwide on how parental substance abuse has become an issue with children. Parents who abuse substances, both drugs and alcohol, can be impaired mentally and physically. It can also lead to domestic violence, causing physical and sexual abuse to their children. Money coming into the household becomes limited as resources are spent on drug or alcohol purchases.
Corvally said that sometimes drug abusers will leave their children to make purchases, or leave their children with others who aren't safe. Children might face abuse from people the parents are associating and the parents aren't in the right frame of mind to understand that something isn't right. The Child and Family Services have to prove there is neglect or abuse, based on what the state defines it to be.
"Often with drugs there are multiple issues," Corvally said. "Sometimes when there are multiple kinds of drugs involved, the harder the case."
She said that meth seems to be a tough drug to find successful treatments for and find successful intervention, but they are also seeing more cases with prescription drugs that are creating problems for families. She added that they've been seeing less alcohol related cases over time, but they haven't gone away. Marijuana cases don't seem to come up on their radar often, unless the drug is mixed with others.
The number of cases with babies born with drugs in their system has also been increasing. A doctor can screen babies born, they are finding opiates, meth, prescription drugs and other drugs in a newborn's system. They are mandated to report positive screenings when they come up.
On a national level, 9 percent of children live with at least one parent who abuses alcohol or drugs. Studies from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicate that between one-third or two-thirds of the children maltreatment cases involve substance abuse. The costs affiliated with child placement and childcare add up to $24 billion covered by states annually. Around 20 percent of those funds go to different aspects of substance abuse; that's around $5.3 billion, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The numbers don't tell the story of what a child may go through in these instances. Fetal alcohol syndrome, nuerodevelopmental disorders and behavior disorders may arise with children born with substances in their system. Children with parents abusing substances are more likely to experience mental, physical and sexual abuse in the household. They also have a greater risk of developing a substance abuse problem themselves as they grow older.
Methamphetamines have created a ripple of concern when it comes to children. Not only do they create a range of disorders and birth defects, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that parents who suffer an addiction to the drug often lead to the abuse and neglect of their children. Children exposed to labs, or the manufacture of the drug are also exposed to severe dangers. The National Association of Counties has indicated that this drug in particular has increased the burden of child welfare agencies across the nation.
Corvally explained that children who end up in the system due to a parental substance abuse can be placed back in the home. Parents are given a treatment plan and if they find success the children can go home. Home visits can be ordered by the judge to make sure that the reunification of the parents and children go over smoothly.
"This helps the case to stay open and monitor, just in case there are any future problems," Corvally said.
If parents aren't able to find success in their substance abuse treatment, the children can be placed for adoption or guardianship. The hope is that children can go home with their parents. Sometimes parents can utilize parenting education, in-home hands-on education can be provided for them if needed.
The impact drugs have on children are sometimes overlooked. If you suspect the abuse or neglect of a child you can call the tip-line at 1-800-820-KIDS. Corvally said that you shouldn't hesitate if you suspect issues. Those interested in becoming a foster parent can find information by calling 1-866-9FOSTER or visiting the website at http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/cfsd/.