Seminars cover issues of children living in meth houses

Monday, July 2, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri authorities say children who are exposed to methamphetamine face health risks and suffer neglect and abuse.

A new effort is being launched this summer to deal with these problems. Starting this month, a series of seminars will be held to lay out a plan for assisting children removed from houses where meth is cooked.

The first seminar will be this month in Columbia, with a second one planned for Kansas City in August.

Missouri has for years led the nation in the number of meth lab raids and number of children removed from meth houses, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2006, Missouri reported 1,288 meth lab incidents -- far higher than any other state.

Illinois was second with 778 incidents. Kansas reported 165.

The amount of meth incidents in Missouri has decreased by more than half since 2003, when they were at their highest. Police have cracked down on meth, and there's new laws that regulate sales of some ingredients used to make the cheap, highly addictive drug.

Still, 1,370 of the state's 10,300 foster care children -- roughly 13 percent -- came from homes raided for meth, according to officials with the Missouri Children's Division.

Molly Merrigan, commissioner of the Jackson County Family and Juvenile Court, said the extent to which a child is neglected depends on the level of the parent's drug use.

"We have cases where kids haven't been to school for months," Merrigan said.

Children living in meth houses are exposed to battery acid, drain cleaner and other toxic, potentially explosive meth ingredients.

"Little ones [children] sometimes crawl right through whatever somebody drops on the floor," said Penny Clodfelter, the Jackson County Family and Juvenile Court's program manager. "Parents further expose these children by getting ingredients on their hands and then changing diapers and fixing bottles. These kids have lots of colds and respiratory problems.

"They don't eat right," she said. "There's heaps of trash sitting around. There are guns. There're no sheets on the crib. Sometimes there is no crib."

The seminars are part of a joint project of the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association and the University of Missouri-Columbia's Truman School of Public Affairs.

Law enforcement officers, therapists, health professionals and social workers are among those set to participate.

Another part of the project will team up professionals, so they can meet before meth raids to discuss children who are involved.

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