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Introduction: In many cases where Colorado Law Enforcement charges a drug related charge – it is common – if somehow a child is involved or even just present during the commission of the crime – for a count of child abuse to be charged as well. This introduces a new and difficult emotional element for the juries that must deliberate in such cases – this web page addresses the legal and practical issues in such cases.
There are several aspects of child abuse and neglect in drug-endangered homes. The environments themselves are frequently so dangerous that simply allowing a child to live there constitutes child endangerment.
Substance abuse also can affect a caregiver’s ability to parent, placing the child at additional risk for abuse and neglect.
Research demonstrates that a large portion (80-90 percent) of caretakers involved in the child welfare system for child abuse face substance abuse as one of their major personal issues. Substance abuse is believed to cause or exacerbate 7 out of 10 cases of child abuse and neglect.
Children whose parents abuse drugs and alcohol are three times more likely to be abused and four times more likely to be neglected (No Safe Haven: Children of Substance-Abusing Parents, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University,January 1999).
Meth labs can create an environment that is so dangerous that some states – such as Colorado – have determined that allowing children to live in such residences even part of the time constitutes child endangerment/abuse/neglect. About 30-35 percent of meth labs seized are in residences where children live.
Children are at an increased risk in a meth lab environment because of their physiologic status (higher rates of growth, metabolism, respiration and development) and their behaviors (hand-to-mouth behaviors and increased contact with their physical environment). At least two reports have demonstrated that 35-70 percent of children removed from labs have a urine drug screen that is positive for methamphetamine at the time of removal from the home.
The specific hazards to children living in these labs are numerous. The children are exposed to toxic chemicals and are at risk of inhaling toxic fumes. Clothing and skin contact with improperly stored chemicals, chemical waste dumped in play areas, and potential explosions and fires (the specific risks of the different chemicals are outlined in the Clandestine Lab section) also are possible.
Children in these residences are frequently exposed to a hazardous environment, which often includes accessible drugs; exposure to drug users, cooks and dealers; hypodermic needles within reach of children; accessible glass smoking pipes, razor blades and other drug paraphernalia; weapons left accessible; and booby traps placed to “protect” the clandestine laboratory and its contents from intruders.
The use of illegal drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol affects the caregiver’s judgment, rendering them unable to provide the consistent supervision and guidance that children need for appropriate development. Therefore, substance abuse in adults is a critical factor in the child welfare system. With specific reference to methamphetamine, children are frequently neglected during their caregiver’s long periods of sleep while “crashing” from a drug binge.
The caregivers also frequently display inconsistent and paranoid behavior, especially if they are using methamphetamine. They often are irritable and have a “short fuse,” which may ultimately lead to physical abuse. Children in these homes often are exposed to violence.
Sometimes the caregivers often were not parented well themselves and, therefore, did not learn effective parenting skills. Finally, the caregiver’s ability to provide a nurturing home for a child is complicated by the caregiver’s own mental health issues, which may have contributed to, or resulted from, substance abuse.
Children whose caregivers are substance abusers are also sometimes neglected. They often do not have enough food, are not adequately groomed, do not have appropriate sleeping conditions, and usually have not had adequate medical or dental care. These children are frequently not well-supervised, placing them at additional risk of injury. Children raised by substance-abusing caregivers often are exposed to pornographic material, emotionally abused and have a heightened risk for sexual abuse.
Additionally, they frequently do not get the appropriate amount of support, encouragement, discipline and guidance they need to thrive.
It is clear for many reasons that caregivers who are using illegal substances or excessive amounts of alcohol are not able to provide safe and nurturing homes for their children.
(5) “Controlled substance” means a drug, substance, or immediate precursor included in schedules I through V of part 2 of this article, including cocaine, marijuana, marijuana concentrate, any synthetic cannabinoid, and salvia divinorum.