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Children at Risk: Overview

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2002
6 pages
This document discusses the Drug Endangered Children (DEC) program that helps children that are being exposed to toxic chemicals because methamphetamine laboratories are being operated in or near their homes.
These children are often abused or neglected by the parents, guardians, or others that operate these laboratories. The number of children found at these sites more than doubled from 1999 through 2001. Methamphetamine laboratory sites contain toxic chemicals and waste as well as finished product and drug paraphernalia. Children in these homes often inhale dangerous chemical fumes or gases or ingest toxic chemicals or illicit drugs. Exposure to these substances can cause serious short- and long-term health problems. These problems include damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, lungs, eyes, and skin. These children are also likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems stemming from abuse or neglect. Inhaling or ingesting these toxic substances may also cause cancer or death. The chemicals used to produce methamphetamine may cause serious burns if they come into contact with the skin. Butte County, California developed a collaborative effort to improve the safety and health of children endangered by drug production, distribution, and abuse in 1993. The DEC program brings together law enforcement officers, social workers, public health nurses, and district attorneys in an effort to remove children from homes where methamphetamine is produced and to safeguard the children from further abuse and neglect. A key component of the model program is a response team that is on call 24 hours a day. The response team receives specialized training regarding methamphetamine production and the circumstances specific to drug endangered children. All personnel have experience or receive training in criminal investigations related to evidence collection in child endangerment cases. The team has removed 80 to 100 children from drug-related endangerment situations each year since its inception and has successfully prosecuted hundreds of cases of child endangerment. There is now DEC programs in 15 counties in California.