Authorities helping kids in drug homes

Kids from drug-infested homes often start their lives in the bottom of the ninth, down by five runs and with two strikes against them.

Their odds aren't good.

We've gotten a glimpse into that world in recent days, most graphically in the story of Jessica Kasten -- the Wausau woman convicted of letting one of her children die of suffocation as she slept off a methamphetamine bender.

Her parents, who spoke at length with a Gannett Wisconsin Media reporter, said Kasten's own upbringing in a home rife with drugs and alcohol didn't give her a good start in life.

Kasten's story has been revealing to many of us. But it comes as no surprise to police and social workers, who see such tragedies unfolding all the time.

They've had enough, and they're trying to do something about it.

Until recently, authorities had no standard procedure for dealing with kids from drug homes. The dwellings they would encounter were squalid or, even worse, toxic with residue of chemicals used to make drugs.

Police would show up and take parents to jail for dealing or using drugs. Children would be sent off to a relative's house, and everyone would get back to work -- until the next bust, when the same cycle would begin all over again.

Now, an encounter with a drug home automatically kicks a special procedure into gear.

The Drug Endangered Children Program, developed by the Marathon County Sheriff's Department, ties together 15 area police agencies, social workers and two hospitals, all dedicated with giving kids from drug homes a chance.

As soon as police know children are involved in a drug home, they begin building two cases -- one to prosecute the parents and another to help the children.

"Officers are trained to look for how close chemicals are to where kids eat and sleep, to test clothing for chemicals for child neglect and abuse charges," Marathon County Sheriff's Department Capt. Tom Kujawa said. "When the kids get to the hospital, doctors are trained to look for chemicals on their skin and in their systems. A lot of times, you would put kids with a brother or grandparent or whatever, and it would turn out they were cooking drugs, too. So now, we have a whole checklist we go through to make sure we get them to a safe environment."

Often, Kujawa said, children must leave behind everything they own because it's all contaminated with drugs. So police give them backpacks of clothing, toiletries and blankets that are knitted by church groups and -- of all people -- male prison inmates.

The Sheriff's Department started the Drug Endangered Children program about three years ago, when methamphetamine first started appearing.

Now, it's being adopted around the state -- and being put to more use than ever.

In May, authorities used the system when they raided a Wausau-area meth house and removed three children, ages 5, 7 an 14.

"Without intervention, they have zero chance," said Kujawa, who was leader of the county's drug enforcement unit when the program began.

"Kids need an opportunity to be kids, and we cheat them out of life," Kujawa said. "Some of these kids, 5, 6, 7 years old, the kids are raising the parents because of the addiction. It's just sad."

It is sad. But thanks to this program -- the first of its kind in Wisconsin -- some of these children are getting a new chance at life.
source: Wisconsin Info,