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14. Drug-Endangered Children Program

Children who live in or visit homes where methamphetamine manufacture or use is taking place face acute health and safety risks, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; fire and explosions; and medical neglect. Collaboration among providers is critical to ensure the adequate protection and care of children found in these environments.

The Drug-Endangered Children Program is a multi-disciplinary initiative designed to break the cycle of neglect and abuse associated with substance abusing care-givers. This approach leverages the resources of the criminal justice system, human services, juvenile court and the public health system to address the safety and well-being of children, and hold neglectful and abusive parents accountable. As appropriate, the program also assists families in obtaining substance abuse treatment and other types of family based assistance.

The Drug-Endangered Children Program is coordinated by the Iowa Attorney General's Office. Multi-disciplinary partners include: state and local law enforcement agencies, human services, prosecutors, the medical community and substance abuse treatment providers. The program involves the development of a collaborative, coordinated response to drug-affected children, including joint protocols and procedures, as well as training for participating staff.

The DEC works at the community level so that when a drug warrant is issued, a law enforcement officer contacts the Department of Human Services (DHS) worker on call and a child endangerment investigation is conducted. In consultation with DHS, the DEC officer makes the decision to remove the child or children from the home. The DHS worker determines the need for medical testing and initiates Child In Need of Assistance (CINA) procedures, if needed. The case is then referred to the County Attorney for that purpose.

The Attorney General's office and the Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy have developed model protocols and procedures. In addition, they conduct outreach activities with child welfare and local law enforcement agencies, county attorneys and medical professionals to introduce and explain the DEC program. They also provide training and technical assistance to local jurisdiction representatives that indicate an interest in forming their own DEC program.

Children are especially at risk in drug environments because of behaviors that lead to increased exposure such as crawling and putting their hands to their mouths. In addition, a child's high metabolic rate, immature organ systems and weaker immune system increase their risk of harm in a drug environment.

In SFY 2002 and 2003 there were 958 founded child abuse cases due to parents manufacturing meth or possessing precursors. In addition, a high percentage of child protection cases are drug related - some studies report over 90%.

There were 1,294 meth labs reported in Iowa in 2002. In 2001 there were 606 arrests for methamphetamine manufacture or distribution and 1320 arrests for meth possession and use. Exposure to methamphetamine is often associated with family violence, emotional abuse, neglect, criminal behavior, exposure to toxic chemicals and dysfunctional care-giving.

The expected benefits of this grant program include faster responses and more thorough medical evaluations of drug-endangered children, more effective prosecution of abusive adults and earlier intervention and more intensive treatment of chemically dependent offenders. The expected results will be healthier, safer children and more rehabilitated parents who can safely be reunited with their children.

Iowa's Drug-Endangered Children Program Website