Blue Line

drug endangered kids.txt

September 3, 2011  By Jean Floyd

– Commander Lori Moriarty (Ret.) of the North Metro Task Force, a Denver, Colorado multi-jurisdictional undercover drug unit. She is now vice-president of The National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children.The RCMP “O” Division (Ontario) Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service (DOCAS) and the City of Stratford brought together more than 125 professionals, including police officers, social workers, nurses, child protection workers, counselors and other service providers, in May. The two day conference was aimed at providing community partners with current, relevant and valuable information about drug endangered children.The gathering emphasized the latest research and best practice strategies to eliminate the cycle of child abuse caused by the child’s exposure to illegal drug activity in the home.”We need to work closely with local organizations and social services so that young people who come in contact with the police, as either offenders or victims, receive the help they need to overcome challenges in their lives,” stated RCMP “O” Division Commanding Officer, Asst/Comm. Stephen White.The role of the Drug Endangered Children (DEC) program is to intervene on behalf of children who have been exposed to home-based drug activity to improve their life trajectory.Cpl. Heather Dickinson, a member of “O” Division DOCAS, in partnership with provincial and local law enforcement agencies and community services, is spearheading the movement in Ontario. “Addressing and assisting drug endangered children in Ontario requires a two pronged approach,” she said. “We need laws to protect these children but, most importantly, we need real collaboration between law enforcement, child protection and other social agencies, to rescue, defend, shelter and support children and give them the care that they need, not just once or at the time of arrest, but addressing their needs all of the way along their personal developmental continuum.”{Defining drug endangered children}Simply stated, a child is considered “drug endangered” if they are, or are likely to be, harmed by an adult’s drug activity. Children are deemed to be especially endangered if they are growing up in a home where drugs are being produced or sold, whether through an indoor marijuana grow operation or a synthetic drug lab. DEC are also those children whose caretaker’s substance abuse interferes with their ability to parent and provide a safe and nurturing environment.{Children at risk}The cultivation of marijuana, as well as the production of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs, is a major threat. Grow operations and clandestine labs can pose an environmental threat to children residing at these locations. For example, carbon dioxide enhances plant growth but poses serious health risks to humans. High concentrations can displace oxygen in the air, resulting in oxygen deficiency, combined with the effects of carbon dioxide toxicity. Grow operations contain high levels of humidity and are prone to the build-up of various molds, which can damage human health, causing or aggravating immunological diseases such as hay fever, allergies, asthma, infections and even cancer. The likelihood of a house fire is 24 times greater in a home with a grow op as compared to an ordinary household. Synthetic drug labs give rise to a variety of serious issues resulting from the toxic environments that they create. Methamphetamine is made mostly from common volatile household ingredients. When these ingredients are mixed and cooked together, dangerous and potentially harmful chemical residues can remain on household surfaces for months or years after cooking. Every pound of methamphetamine produced creates some five to seven pounds of waste, including solvents and corrosives. The increasing popularity of marijuana in Canada parallels the rising number of grow operations. Cannabis cultivation has more than doubled, from 3,400 recorded incidents in 1994 to more than 8,000 incidents in 2004.Other health and safety threats to children living in grow-ops and synthetic drug labs or who have care givers addicted to drugs include neglect, domestic violence, pre and post-natal drug and alcohol abstinence syndrome and sexual abuse. Because marijuana grow operations are often linked to criminal activity and organized crime, the environment is also very high risk for physical assault, home invasions, gang violence and homicides.Increasing liberal attitudes towards marijuana use has led to an increase in the number of child neglect and abuse cases that can be directly attributed to marijuana. Presenting at the Stratford conference, Lori Moriarty cited cases where regular pot smokers had been found guilty of abusing or neglecting children. One story in particular resonated with the crowd; a father, high on pot with friends, placed his infant son and two year-old-child in a bath. Later he noticed water flowing down the hallway into the kitchen and only then remembered that he had put his children in the bathtub. He found his 8-month-old child dead, face down in the overflowing tub. Children growing up in homes of substance abuse are more likely to use substances themselves. This is yet another trajectory risk of the DEC. “During my work in Australia, which has the highest marijuana use globally, there are increasing documented cases of serious and, in some instances, deadly results, that have been associated with pot use amongst kids,” stated Dr. Kiti Freier Randall, a pediatric neurodevelopment psychologist with an extensive background working with high-risk infant and youth populations. “They are investigating lethal consequences of youth who also happen to be taking prescribed antidepressants… The combination of marijuana and prescription drugs can be deadly. Marijuana use is often unknown to parents and practitioners who will frequently believe that the child died as a result of suicide rather than the result of combination substance overdose.”Meth users may suffer from paranoia, depression, eating disorders, insomnia and memory impairment – not the kind of qualities that make for a good parent, to say the least. By its very nature methamphetamine provides additional risk to our children. Residue collects on all surfaces surrounding a “cook” area; therefore it is not surprising that many children removed from home based labs test positive for methamphetamine. They also face greater risk of poisoning and needle punctures.The evidence shows that, in addition to the physical hazards associated with living in drug production surroundings, there is also long lasting and most often seemingly invisible harm done to a child who lives in an environment where their physical and emotional needs are neglected by a parent who is using drugs.The child’s everyday experience is often one of chaos, trauma, neglect and abuse, often resulting in the child learning to dissociate themselves; they become withdrawn, cannot relate or attach themselves in relationships. They also often experience neuropsychological difficulties (eg. attention, memory, language, visual motor or sensorimotor deficits), poor self esteem, a sense of hopelessness, no values or spirituality and eating and behavioral disorders. Ultimately they will often mirror the same behaviors as their caregivers; becoming addicts themselves.”The environment changes their emotional landscape, distorting their emerging view of the world. Without intervention this will likely result in behavior and emotional problems later in their life,” stated Randall.{Drugs, children and law enforcement}The role of law enforcement in the past has simply been to reduce the supply of drugs on our streets but this is not a complete solution. The problem hasn’t gone away; as long as there is a demand for drugs there will be criminals willing to manufacture and sell them. Children will continue to be at risk and the cycle will start all over again.If you have been around the drug world as a police officer, you come to learn that the kids on scene during a drug raid will likely be the same people you arrest 10-20 years later. The challenge for police is to change the way we view our role in drug enforcement. “It’s not about removing kids from homes, it’s about removing drugs from their lives,” noted Dickinson, “and the only way that we can effectively do that is through collaboration of all stakeholders.”RCMP Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Ian Sanderson, who helped to develop Canada’s first drug-endangered children act (Nov. 2006) in Alberta, said “We need to realize that there are impacts beyond organized crime bringing drugs into our community. Homes become dysfunctional as a result of drug abuse and the negative long-term effects on children.” Under this Alberta law, caseworkers and police officers can apprehend a child in danger from an adult’s drug activity. If within two days the child cannot be safely returned to a parent or guardian, they will begin receiving services under Alberta’s child welfare legislation.{What’s next?}”My hope is that everyone who attended the conference left with a desire to help the drug endangered children that they come in contact with,” said Dickinson, “and ultimately I hope they will use the knowledge and strategies to open doors at their local level and work with each other to not only take children out of harm’s way, but to change their life trajectory as well.”Garfield Dunlop, MPP Simcoe North, introduced a private member’s bill in the Ontario legislature in Nov. 2010. Bill 84, the Child and Family Services Amendment Act (Protection of Drug Endangered Children) passed second reading unanimously by all three parties. It would amend the CFSA by clearly identifying drug endangered children as a new category of children in need of protection and classify the act of drug endangering a child as child abuse. The bill has been moved to the Standing Committee of Justice Policy and now it is up to the Liberal government to call it forward for public hearings and then third reading. “We have to give police and child protection workers the tools they need to do their job more effectively and that is exactly what my bill will do,” stated Dunlop. Collaboration of law enforcement and child protection services has its own set of challenges. Why is collaboration challenging? Competing goals, historical relationship issues, control issues, differing values, feelings of insurmountable obstacles or hopelessness and un-channeled passions all contribute to making collaboration difficult.Moriarty offered a scenario based approach to help break down those collaborative barriers, stating “We get all the players in a room, we put scenarios out there like, we have a raid on a meth house, evidence that kids live there but only one infant is found. What is your role in this situation? What is mine?”The scenario based approach allows all stakeholders to learn what the role of the other is, clearly define their own role and fill in any gaps that may be exposed as a result of the exercise.A conference similar to Stratford was planned for Oct. 4 and 5 in Thunder Bay. “With communities starting to mobilize efforts towards drug endangered children initiatives it is important to engage all relevant stakeholders at all levels,” stated Dickinson. “I am so passionate about the DEC program and what it can do to help children; the positive response from participants at the conference and the subsequent interest in moving forward has me feeling tremendously optimistic that DEC will become a reality in Ontario.”BIOTo become involved with the DEC program in Ontario contact Corporal Heather Dickinson at the RCMP Toronto West Detachment (905 876-9674 or Visit for more on the DEC (US web site) or contact Sgt. Trudy Bangloy at 613 990-9322 to inquire about the RCMP National DEC.

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