The following frequently asked questions will guide you to a general understanding of what are drug endangered children, and why it is a problem that children are endangered by their parents’ substance abuse
1. What is a Drug Endangered Child?
2. What has been the historic response for Drug Endangered Children?
3. What is Child Abuse/Neglect?
4. What about Substance-Related Child Abuse/Neglect?
5. What is Colorado Law regarding Substance-Related Child Abuse?
6. What are Risk and Protective factors for child abuse and neglect?
7. Where can I find more information and resources on child abuse/neglect and drug endangered children?
8. What are the effects of drugs on parents?
9. What are the possible risks to a child because of their parents’ substance abuse?
10. Why is parental modeling of substance use so damaging?
11. What are typical symptoms that indicate that children are living in a dangerous drug environment?
12. How do I know if there are drugs in a child's home?
13. Specifically, how do methamphetamine labs endanger children?
14. What are the signs of someone under the influence of illegal substances?
1. What is a Drug Endangered Child? back to top
Drug endangered children are those living in dangerous drug environments because of parents or caregivers who manufacture, cultivate, distribute, and/or abuse illegal substances.
Being raised in these environments creates outcomes for children that may include – neglect, physical or emotional abuse, lack of supervision, lack of parenting or nurturing role models, poor nutrition, deprivation and unsanitary living conditions.
2. What has been the historic response for Drug Endangered Children? back to top
The historical response of private and public sector agencies resulted in fractured, discipline-specific responses from groups that did not communicate about drug endangered children’s issues. Traditionally, law enforcement agencies and departments of child welfare rarely communicated on substance-related child abuse cases because of philosophical and operational differences. The result is that countless numbers of children have gone unrecognized and underserved for years, receiving insufficient care and treatment needed to heal from these abusive environments. Additionally, different disciplines may have conflicting mandates on families making it difficult for them to succeed. This inefficient and ineffective response leaves children in danger and may contribute to the transfer of substance abuse and criminality from one generation to the next.
3. What is Child Abuse & Neglect? back to top
Child abuse is defined within the Colorado Revised statutes as, “an act or omission by a person that causes injury or the death of a child. Child neglect is characterized by failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision to a child that a prudent parent would provide.” Colorado also includes emotional abuse and sexual abuse in its definition of child abuse. Approximately 60 percent of all child maltreatment is neglect (in Colorado and nationwide).
4. What about Substance-Related Child Abuse/Neglect? back to top
“Parents with substance abuse problems are approximately three times more likely to report abuse towards their children and for times more likely to report neglect than parents without substance abuse problems ”
Children of substance abusers are often neglected or abused. Indeed, parental substance abuse is one of the main problems facing families who are reported for child maltreatment. Substance abuse poses a unique problem for children in that parents become inconsistent in their ability to parent, and are often more susceptible to abusing/neglecting their children. In addition, abuse of illegal substances by parents often results in permanency issues for their children, as frequently children are removed from their families who are deemed unfit to parent. See The Effects of Drugs on Parents section below for more information.
The drug endangered children effort originally converged over the issue of methamphetamine and in particular home-based manufacturing of meth labs. Thankfully, given the concerted effort of law enforcement, improved regulation of precursors for the manufacturing process, and improved awareness and response by child protective services, courts and corrections departments, the number of methamphetamine labs has been drastically reduced in the last few years. However, research and experience both demonstrate that ANY illegal substance can produce dangerous drug environments for children.
5. What is Colorado Law About Substance Related-Child Abuse? back to top
Colorado Law [Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann § 18-6-401(1)(c)] states that:
A person commits child abuse if, in the presence of a child, or on the premises where a child is found, or where a child resides, or in a vehicle containing a child, the person knowingly engages in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of a controlled substance, as defined by section 18-18-102 (5), or knowingly possesses ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine, or their salts, isomers, or salts of isomers, with the intent to use the product as an immediate precursor in the manufacture of a controlled substance. It shall be no defense to the crime of child abuse that the defendant did not know a child was present, a child could be found, a child resided on the premises, or that a vehicle contained a child.
A parent or lawful guardian of a child or a person having the care or custody of a child who knowingly allows the child to be present at or reside at a premises or to be in a vehicle where the parent, guardian, or person having care or custody of the child knows or reasonably should know another person is engaged in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of methamphetamine commits child abuse.
A parent of lawful guardian of a child or a person having the care of custody of a child who knowingly allows the child to be present at or reside at a premises or to be in a vehicle where the parent, guardian, or person having care of custody of the child knows or reasonably should know another person possesses ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or phenylpropanolamine, or their salts, isomers, or salts of isomers, with the intent to use the product as an immediate precursor in the manufacture of methamphetamine commits child abuse.
Note: The following link provides a searchable database all of the Colorado Revised Statutes that are related to child abuse or child welfare issues:
6. What are Risk and Protective factors for child abuse and neglect? back to top
Several risk factors exist that are associated with child abuse including specific parental, familial, and child characteristics, plus several environmental factors such as poverty and living in a violent community. Interestingly, one of the major factors in predicting child abuse and neglect is by examining the history of child abuse and neglect themselves. In addition, a parent’s exposure to domestic violence and/or other substance-related child abuse are consistently associated with resultant child abuse for their children. This highlights the importance breaking the intergenerational transfer of child abuse as a means of preventing a continuation for the next generation of children.
The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information has amassed a cadre of articles and resources about protective and risk factors involved in child abuse: http://www.childwelfare.gov/can/factors/
7. Where can I find more information and resources on child abuse/neglect and drug endangered children? back to top
Several resources and more information are online. Several federal and state government sites have a great deal of information readily available; from signs and symptoms of child abuse to evidence-based approaches for communities to address this issue. On this site, see the Links page for a comprehensive listing of resources. Two of the most accessible websites for information on drug endangered children and child abuse are listed here:
· The National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children features several articles on child abuse and drug endangered children with on the National DEC Resource Center: http://www.nationaldec.org/resourcecenter/resourcecenterhome.html
· The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information has a number of articles and resources to address child abuse: http://www.childwelfare.gov/
8. What are the effects of drugs on parents? back to top
The effects of a particular drug on an adult has a broad range of effects depending on the substance of abuse, the dose, route of administration, previous exposure to the drug, and the expectation of the user. See the list of symptoms for question 14, or see the following links which provide excellent information on both the drug itself and the various known effects of each drug:
Drug Enforcement Agency http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/concern.htm
Mendez Foundation Drug Info http://www.mendezfoundation.org/resources/druginfo/index.htm
9. What are the possible risks to a child because of their parents’ substance abuse? back to top
Illegal substances by parents have a myriad of risks for children that typically fall into one of three categories:
1. Substance Use (also see symptoms listed under Question 11)
a. Direct – Caretaker substance abuse is sometimes such that children can be put under the direct influence of the substance (e.g. child steps on a needle, second-hand smoke, and residue/chemicals from a home lab/grow, or drugs that are left unattended).
b. Indirect - Parents who are under the direct influences of substances demonstrate several problematic symptoms that will impact their ability to parent. The symptoms that impact their children vary depending on the substance, but range from extreme violence/abuse to abandonment/neglect of their children. However the most prevalent and worrisome impact is that a child is exposed to the MODELING of substance abuse by their parent. What is Modeling?
2. Co-Occurring Mental Health issues
In any given year, 2.5 million adults in the nation have a co-occurring serious mental illness and substance abuse disorder . Between 40-60 percent of individuals presenting in mental health settings have a co-occurring substance abuse diagnosis and 60-80 percent of individuals presenting in a substance abuse facility have a co-occurring mental health disorder . Oftentimes it is impossible to discern the causal relationship between substance abuse and the mental health issues. Regardless, the results of parental mental health issues can place children at risk of the following (among others):
§ Childhood Mental Health Problems
§ Issues with temperament
§ Childhood Trauma
§ Insecure Attachment
3. Limited access to resources because of substances
a. Direct – Substance abuse & abuse is oftentimes accompanied by poverty and/or low socioeconomic status. As the causal relationship cannot be determined here, it is difficult to say which is the case: whether parents use substances as a means to deal with poverty or whether parents are poor because they use substances (ie. Spend all of their money on substances). These co-occurring risks can double the impact on children.
b. Indirect – Substance Abuse in parents often results in social and familial isolation. This lack of resources to the parent sometimes contributes to the neglect and poor socialization of the children as the parent may not have access to a safe place for the child or a sober community to which to reach out.
10. Why is parental modeling of substance use so damaging? back to top
Perhaps more pervasive than any of these issues with parenting, is the notion that parents model the use of substances to their children. Indeed, all types of parental substance abuse, including smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use are associated with an increased risk that their children will also be substance abusers. Click here to watch a powerful video on the effects of parental modeling of substance abuse.
11. What are typical symptoms that indicate that children are living in a dangerous drug environment? back to top
As, mentioned above, some of the risks for drug endangered children include physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. These are listed, as their symptoms are sometimes easier to identify, whereas the association between other risk factors (such as poverty) and substance abuse is often very blurry. Symptoms of the hazards of living in a dangerous drug environment can take many forms, such as:
· Exposure to Drugs/Chemicals
· Physical Abuse
· Sexual Abuse
· Mental/Emotional Damage
Children who live in homes with drugs are often neglected or abandoned by their caregivers. They may:
· Arrive at school with no coat
· Appear dirty or smell unclean
· Wear torn or dirty clothes
· Lack needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
· Appear extremely hungry or horde food
· Stay late at school or with friends because they don't want to go home
· Become the caregiver either to younger siblings or to parents who can't care for themselves
Exposure and Accidental Poisoning
Children who live in homes with drugs are often exposed to the toxic chemicals used to "cook" the drugs or to the drugs themselves. Physical signs of exposure include:
· Burning and watery eyes
· Blurred vision
· Skin irritation and redness
· Burns on the skin
· Sneezing and coughing
· Difficult breathing, shortness of breath
· Chest pain
· Nausea and vomiting
· Stomach pain
· Yellow jaundice
· Extreme irritability
Because drug use often leads to violence, children in homes with drugs may be abused by their caregivers. Children who are being physically abused may:
· Have unexplained injuries, broken bones, bruises, burns, open wounds, lacerations, welts, black eyes, or bite marks
· Have grip marks on their arms
· Have unexplained fear
· Be depressed or talk about suicide
· Show sudden changes in behavior
· Have physical signs of being tied up or otherwise restrained
· Deny there is a problem when other warning signs are present
· Have injuries in the shape of an object - belt, cord, iron
· Have injuries that do not fit the story
· Be frightened of parent, caretaker or other adults
· Exhibit anti-social behavior
Drug endangered children may be sexually abused by people using drugs. Children who are being sexually abused may:
· Have unexplained bleeding, wounds, bruising or pain in genital area
· Have unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
· Be in pain when going to the bathroom
· Have difficulty walking or sitting
· Become pregnant
· Touch others in inappropriate sexual ways
· Be afraid of being touched
· Show self-destructive behaviors like cutting themselves or pulling out their hair
· Exhibit regressive behavior
· Have (or show) inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sex acts
People on drugs may become very verbally abusive and manipulative to those around them. Children who are being mentally and emotionally abused may:
· Be constantly afraid
· Withdraw from situations they used to enjoy
· Have low self-esteem
· Be extremely timid or passive or pushy and hostile
· Be unusually upset or anxious
· Be nervous around certain people
· Make excuses why he/she cannot make phone calls, leave the house or go home
· Be apathetic
· Wet or soil self
· Fail to learn
· Have difficulty making friends
12. How do I know if there are drugs in a child's home? back to top
There are many signs that people are using, selling or making dangerous drugs. You may have drug related activity in your neighborhood if:
· There are houses or buildings with windows blackened or curtains always drawn
· There are frequent visitors to a home, building or area at all times of the day and night or at odd hours
· Occupants of a home appear unemployed or underemployed yet have plenty of money or pay bills with cash
· There are chemical odors coming from a house, the garbage, or a detached building
· The garbage contains numerous bottles, containers, stained bed sheets or coffee filters
· You find inhaling or injecting paraphernalia, such as razor blades, straws, heated spoons, or syringes
13. Specifically, how do methamphetamine labs endanger children? back to top
Exposure to meth manufacturing can harm anyone, but it is particularly dangerous to children. Once a meth lab is discovered, children who live in meth labs need special and immediate attention from a variety of professionals, including medical, legal and child welfare. The dangers faced by children who live in and near meth labs include contamination, fire and explosion, child abuse and neglect, hazardous living conditions and other social problems.
One of the greatest dangers of a meth lab is contamination. Contamination can occur in a number of ways – through the skin, soiled clothing, household items used in the lab, second hand smoke and ingestion. Children are more likely than adults to absorb meth lab chemicals into their bodies because of their size and higher rates of metabolism and respiration. The chemicals used to produce meth are often stored in unlabeled food and drink containers on floors and countertops. This puts toddlers and infants at increased risk due to childhood behaviors such as putting hands and other objects into mouths and crawling and playing on floors. The poor ventilation that results from attempting to seal in smells and add privacy increases the likelihood of inhaling toxic fumes. Exposure to waste by-products that have been dumped in outside play areas is also common for children living in and near meth labs. While much remains to be learned about the long-term medical consequences of exposure to meth chemicals in childhood, potential damage from such exposure includes anemia, neurologic damage and respiratory problems.
14. What are the signs of someone under the influence of illegal substances? back to top
Below are various drugs and the prominent characteristics of use/abuse, as well as significant warning signs to identify parents of drug endangered children.
WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS: Any of the following symptoms can be signs of drug withdrawal. Nausea, sweating, tremors, agitation, irritability, loss of appetite, insomnia, confusion, headaches, tired, anxiety, thirst, cramps, carving.
MARIJUANA: bloodshot eyes, euphoria, laughing, disorientation, impaired time & distance perception, binge eating, sweet smoky smell, dry mouth, unable to concentrate, short-term memory loss, hacking cough, lazy laid back appearance, unmotivated, talkative.
STIMULANTS: irritable, dilated pupils, intense emotions, fidgeting, headaches, difficulty concentrating, agitation, excessive activity, loss of appetite, insomnia.
ECSTASY: extreme euphoria, dilated pupils, teeth grinding, nausea, muscle pain, diarrhea, paranoia, loss of appetite, anxiety, increased body temp, insomnia.
DEPRESSANTS: slurred speech, staggering gait, depressed, spasmodic movement of eyes, unsteady, poor balance, confusion, droopy eyes, tired.
COUGH MEDICINE: euphoria, hallucinations, loss of coordination, drowsiness, increased pulse & blood pressure, hypothermia, slurred speech.
INHALANTS: chemical odor, sores around mouth/nose, coughing, runny nose, sneezing, impaired attention, slurred speech, red marks around nose & mouth, nosebleeds, nausea, vomiting, poor balance & coordination.
HALLUCINOGENS: sense of detachment from surroundings, hallucinations, fixed eyes, blank stare, anxiety, panic, distorted reality, slurred or blocked speech.
COCAINE: excitability, anxiety, dramatic mood swings, runny nose, sores around nose, hacking cough,
CRACK: tremors, involuntary muscular movements, paranoia
METHAMPHETAMINE: excitability, anxiety, tremors, involuntary muscular movements, dry mouth, dizziness, chest pain, teeth grinding, dilated pupils, tooth decay, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, increased blood pressure, insomnia (awake for days at a time, then crashing & sleeping for days), sores on body (crank bugs), excessive scratching of skin. In addition, withdrawal from family and friends, lack of appetite, extreme weightloss, iritability, high body temperature, extreme depression, repetitive or compulsive behaviors.
NARCOTICS: constricted pupils, low raspy voice, droopy eyes, poor coordination, dry mouth.
STEROIDS: depression, violent outbursts, sudden weight gain, change in muscle mass, increased hair growth, irritability, acne, high blood pressure.
NICOTINE: odor, yellow fingers, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, low raspy voice, dizziness.