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When is drug use child abuse?

When methamphetamine use destroys families, the Department of Family and Children Services has to pick up the pieces. ”It puts children at risk,” said DFACS director U’Landa Barkley. “A lot of child protective services families have drug issues in general. It’s the underlying reason we’re involved.” Statistics are not broken down by drug, but homes with substance abuse problems “make up a large percentage of our cases,” she said. “It’s a sizable problem. A lot of people use meth and other drugs, too. It calls for serious treatment, quickly.” Since DFACS policy clearly states drug abuse ‘“  even of meth ‘“ does not in itself constitute child abuse or neglect, case workers are trained to ask probing questions of those calling to report a family with any drug issue. ”A report isn’t enough for us to investigate,” Barkley said. “There are other factors we have to look at, such as the age of children. A thorough assessment needs to be done.” For instance, a mother of an infant or small child who is under the influence of drugs will raise more alarms than one who has teenagers who can fend for themselves. ”Of course it’s illegal but we’re not law enforcement,” she said. “We work with law enforcement but our job is to assess the risk to the children. Our goal is to get the parents better so they can care for their children.” Once DFACS determines a child is at risk for abuse or neglect, caseworkers begin focusing on treatment options. They work with Pathways, New Choices and Pinewoods, local treatment centers, and others out of town. ”We also have people who go into homes to work with these families,” she said. “Sometimes there’s an underlying reason and drug abuse isn’t the real problem. People turn to drugs as a way out.” When it comes to drug abuse and child neglect, meth and crack cocaine are considered equally bad, she said. ”With meth, there are a lot of unknowns,” said Barkley. “Researchers really don’t know that much about treatment. We were told it takes up to six months just for the (mental) fog to go away. A lot of people have to be treated with mental health drugs” due to brain damage caused by meth. Researchers do not yet know if the damage is reversible. Meth can make users dangerous and unpredictable, she said. “It does devastating things to the body. Their thinking ability is impaired and they can’t make decisions. There is a separate protocol for workers entering a meth home and, if the drug is found, removing the children as opposed to a home where parents may abuse prescription medicines or smoke marijuana. ”Meth itself is dangerous, as are the mental issues it causes,” she said. “They have to be aware of their surroundings at all times. We usually take law enforcement with us.” One of the most important things, she said, is to educate the community of the dangers of meth, what it looks like, how to spot users and how much damage it can cause in terms of people and property. ”It’s a mobile drug,” she said. “There are labs in cars and motel rooms. People need to be aware. We want to make sure all our children are safe and not exposed to it.” For more information on services offered by Family & Children Services in Georgia please visit their website at: http://www.dfcs.dhr.georgia.gov/portal/site/DHR-DFCS/

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