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Posted 03.02.07


MU Scholars Draft Guidelines For Managing Kids Found At Meth Labs

Guidelines could help communities better assist children found at meth sites

COLUMBIA, MO - The Missouri Juvenile Justice Association (MJJA) and researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia's Truman School of Public Affairs have developed guidelines to assist Missouri communities systematically and successfully help children found at methamphetamine lab sites.

Statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) show that Missouri had the most "meth clandestine laboratory incidents" (including labs, dump sites and chem/glass/equipment) in the nation in 2006, with 1,268 incidents. The most recent statistics available from the DEA report that more than 500 children were found in seized Missouri meth labs in 2002.

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Meth labs are dangerous environments for children because the chemicals used to make meth are highly toxic and can explode or catch fire easily. According to Shannon Stokes, research analyst in MU's Institute of Public Policy, children residing at meth lab environments often display signs of developmental delay, cognitive deficits and behavioral problems. These children also are at increased risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

"We developed these guidelines to improve the safety and medical care of children who are found in meth lab environments," Stokes said. "Our goal is to help communities work together to care for drug-exposed children. Our guidelines make this possible by stressing the importance of a multidisciplinary approach that is tailored to meet the needs of the community, and by extension, the children."

The guidelines, which were developed by MJJA, MU and workgroup members representing more than 20 agencies and a multidisciplinary steering committee, include recommendations that communities develop a multidisciplinary team of specialists that can deal with meth labs at the local level, hold regular meetings to discuss procedures and coordination, and hold a preliminary conference prior to a raid in order to plan for effectively helping children at the site. In addition, the guidelines explain how to coordinate proper medical assessment for a child found at the site, how to collect evidence with a child endangerment case in mind, how to interview parents or guardians, and how to negotiate protective custody proceedings. Guidelines also specify procedures for decontamination and child medical treatment.

Funding secured by Senator Kit Bond from the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs for MJJA has made the development of the guidelines possible.

"Some of the most horrible child injury stories I have heard have their origin in methamphetamine abuse," Bond said. "These new guidelines are an important step in protecting the children found in meth labs. By working together, we can help these children and tackle this dangerous epidemic."

Vivian Murphy, director of MJJA, said this is an example of state agencies and organizations working together for the benefit of "our most vulnerable children." Murphy said the next steps are to develop a training curriculum based on these guidelines and use this curriculum to provide free regional training programs this summer to multidisciplinary personnel throughout Missouri. A Web-based course also will be developed.

More information about the project and guidelines can be found at the MJJA Web site.



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