Methamphetamine and the Changing Face of Child Welfare: Practice Principles for Child Welfare Workers

Article excerpt

Methamphetamine use and production is changing child welfare practice. Methamphetamine is a significant public health threat (National Institute of Justice, 1999) reaching epidemic proportions (Anglin, Burke, Perrochet, Stamper, & Dawud-Nouris, 2000). The manufacturing of methamphetamine is a serious problem for the child welfare system, yet child welfare has not addressed the needs of children living in homes where methamphetamine is manufactured (U.S. Department of Justice, 2002; DOJ, 2003; Altshuler, 2005). This article presents key issues for child welfare workers related to the use, production, and effects of methamphetamine on children and families, and identifies practice principles for child welfare workers in order to ensure safety for victims, parents, and workers themselves.

The rising use of methamphetamine has brought a whole new set of challenges to the child welfare system, and methamphetamine use and production is changing child welfare practice. Child welfare workers are more frequently encountering parents who use and manufacture methamphetamine. As a result, they are being exposed to highly explosive laboratories and the direct and indirect effects of methamphetamine. Instead of solely working to help and protect children and families, they now must also focus on protecting themselves.

Scope of the Problem

Methamphetamine use is a significant public health threat (NIJ, 1999) reaching epidemic proportions (Anglin et al., 2000). While methamphetamine abuse initially seemed to be contained in specific regions of the United States or rural Midwestern and Western areas, it is becoming a serious national problem (Cretzmeyer, Sarrazin, Huber, Block, & Hall, 2003; Hohman, Oliver & Wright, 2004; National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2005; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] 1995). Commonly called ice, speed, meth, chalk, crystal meth, glass, and go-fast, it is currently the most popular synthetic drug of abuse (Gorman, Clark, Nelson, Applegate, Amato, & Scroi, 2003).

The use and manufacture of methamphetamine is a multilayered problem that has direct implications for the child welfare system (Shillington, Hohman, & Jones, 2002). Between 50% and 90% of all children involved in the child welfare system have parents or caregivers who use or abuse substances (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1999), and methamphetamine has been shown to increase the risk of child maltreatment (AItshuler, 2005; Rawson, Anglin & Ling, 2002). However, methamphetamine use and production is significantly different from other drugs (Altshuler, 2005).

The manufacture of methamphetamine is a serious problem for the child welfare system, yet child welfare has not addressed the needs of children living in homes where methamphetamine is manufactured (DOJ, 2002; DOJ, 2003; Altshuler, 2005). In 2002, more than 7,500 methamphetamine labs were seized in 44 states (National Drug Intelligence Center, 2004). The U.S. Department of Justice (2002) found the number of children at methamphetamine laboratory sites more than doubled from 1999-2001, and one county in California reports 70%; of all child welfare cases as methamphetamine-related. Children reside in the homes of about 30-35% of all seizures of methamphetamine labs. In fact, methamphetamine labs are so dangerous that some states have made allowing children to live there to constitute child endangerment (Mecham & Melini, 2002).

Most of the children present at methamphetamine laboratories are exposed to dangerous and toxic chemicals (DOJ, 2002). Research has shown 35-45% of children removed from labs test positive for methamphetamine (DOJ, 2002; Mecham & Melini, 2002), and 70% are under the age of four (Mecham & Melini, 2002). Because younger children are more dependent on their caregivers and are most likely to be home during the day for the longest periods of time, they experience the greatest effects of methamphetamine exposure (Mecham & Melini, 2002). …