Drug-endangered kids targeted
It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. And in the case of drug-endangered children, the adage has never been more apt.
That was the message delivered by several speakers during the Drug Endangered Children (DEC) conference last Wednesday and Thursday at the Adventure Inn here.
Statistics show that drugs and parenting don’t mix, and the risks of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, including neglect, are high for drug-endangered children.
This, in turn, can disrupt the healthy physical, behavioural, emotional, and cognitive development of these children—as well as create a new generation of abusers.
Thankfully, “it is never too early, it is never too late” to help them, says Dr. Kiti Freier Randall, a pediatric neurodevelopment psychologist, member of the National Alliance for DEC and Psychosocial Assessment & Intervention in the U.S., and a member of the DEC steering committee in Canada, who headed the list of conference speakers.
“One of the things this conference is meant to do is pull together professionals from multiple levels and from the community to understand the impact this problem is having for children in the community,” said Dr. Freier Randall.
“And also to talk about what are the risk factors for children and what is the resiliency, how can we help?” she added.
“We know [the drug-endangered child’s] trajectory is one that is likely to be affected in a negative way, and so how can we change that trajectory? What can we do about it?
“It’s really about providing that information, but also impassioning and empowering people to connect on this issue so that we can help the children in the community,” she stressed.
Dr. Freier Randall said many professionals who deal with drug-endangered children, whether social workers, police, educators, or drug treatment workers, work in their own silos. And for the benefit of those children, that has to change.
“It’s really about how do we put the child first and put our differences aside, and also look at policy that might be affecting it so we can’t work together, as well,” she noted.
“The mission is about putting the child central and figuring out how can these entities speak to each other, work together, and make the child the focus for having a different trajectory.
“It’s not necessarily that anybody has to do their job that differently, in the sense of what they’re commissioned to do,” Dr. Freier Randall added.
“But to do it differently so that we actually meet [the children’s] needs.”
When it comes to enabling a drug-endangered child to bounce back from their
situation and start out on a positive life trajectory, Dr. Freier Randall said it’s been proven that having a healthy adult in their lives makes all the difference.
“How do we keep kids busy with healthy activities? That’s a community issue,” she remarked.
“Where do we get the adults? That’s a part of that, too.
“Once we share this mission, and some information and strategy of how to work together, it hopefully will ignite the community to be aware of it and to say, ‘What is each one of our roles?’” said Dr. Freier Randall.
“Yes, the drug-endangered child, that’s what it’s about, but it’s also about prevention,” she stressed.
The DEC approach is a community effort.
“Right now, we have a lot of professionals here that might be first responders or part of the child’s treatment or welfare system,” noted Dr. Freier Randall.
“But really, the next step is to really get the word out to the community that we’d like to do something on behalf of the children who are high-risk.
“Time in with our young people, with healthy adults and good activities, will be what the community needs to turn around a lot of your high-risk issues and your social problems,” she reasoned.
RCMP Cpl. Heather Dickinson, the provincial DEC co-ordinator for Ontario, stressed that drugs—no matter if it’s meth, marijuana, or the increasingly problematic prescription variety—are taking a devastating toll on children, who are innocent victims.
But she admitted that historically, children identified at homes where drugs were made or used have not been the focal point of attention for law enforcement officials, including herself.
The extent of their involvement mainly included deciding who to hand the child off to, often failing to consider the effects of toxic chemicals, the child’s need for medical intervention, or the appropriateness of the temporary caregiver.
By contrast, the DEC response model, which was developed in the U.S. and now is being tweaked for usage in parts of Canada, focuses on rescuing, defending, sheltering, and supporting drug-endangered children, said Cpl. Dickinson.
It’s a child-centered approach that encompasses an integrated system of care that addresses a child’s immediate and long-term needs.
This requires a strategy involving community partners—the mission of which is to break the cycle of abuse and neglect by empowering practitioners who work to transform the lives of these children, she added.
Cpl. Dickinson said her eyes were opened about seven years when she attended a DEC conference in Ottawa, where she heard Dr. Freier Randall speak, and realized, “Yikes. I really, really dropped the ball.”
From that day forward, DEC became her passion.
“We are agents of change . . . these children need us to be their heroes,” she stressed.
“Drugs and kids don’t go together,” echoed Gail Cartwright, a Halton Region Family & Children Services worker who has used the DEC program for several years.
Cartwright has worked with female inmates at the Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, Ont., who all agreed that women who use think about drugs first and foremost, not their families.
She reiterated that DEC is about agencies working together and communicating—relating a harrowing story of an addict mother with three children, the oldest of whom was a six-year-old who had been treated for leukemia.
While police and child welfare responded to the matter, it became apparent to Cartwright that the medical and education professions had “dropped the ball,” and the children’s plight should have been picked up on and reported sooner.
For example, the children had missed school and the oldest daughters had missed doctor’s appointments, yet never thought to alert the authorities that anything serious could be wrong.
Dan Morrisseau, agency trainer for Weechi-it-te-win Family Services here, family preservation worker Diane Cobiness, Pearl Rimer, manager of the Child and Youth Advocacy Centre at Boost (Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention Program), and Peggy Shaughnessy of Whitepath Consultants (Peterborough), a drug abuse prevention program for First Nations’ communities, also made presentations over the two-day conference.
The conference was hailed as a success by organizers.
Local SAPT chair Lori Maki said it was exciting to have more than 130 people on hand from a “vast array of community partners,” including First Nation communities, the OPP, Child & Family Services, and the Northwestern Health Unit, who will be “critical to pushing the drug-endangered children initiative forward.”
“I believe this was extremely successful,” she enthused. “We had a great deal of positive feedback.”
Maki added the SAPT put out satisfaction surveys to everyone after each presenter, and she is compiling that information into a report to assist them in where they need to go now.
Maki said the local SAPT is determined to carry forward with implementing a DEC initiative for Rainy River District.
“We’ve got drug-endangered children in our community, as I think every community does,” she stressed, adding it is fortunate the SAPT already has a lot of community partners at the table, with more interested in coming aboard after the conference.
Recommendations from the guest speakers as to where to go next included:
•doing focus groups with children, parents, and caregivers;
•getting a core group together, and having consistency with who is at the table, with dedicated individuals that represent all of the areas necessary to make DEC a successful venture; and
•having a work plan with outcomes in mind, in manageable pieces.
Cpl. Dickinson said there is a DEC protocol developed and once it’s approved, it will be shared with any community which wants it, noted Maki.
“Any community can take that protocol and tailor it to meet the needs of their own communities,” she explained.
“So it’s basically not reinventing the wheel but taking something that’s tried and true, and very thoroughly-researched, and implementing that in our own community.
“I think it should be one of our major projects because prevention and education is one of our primary goals,” Maki added.
“By participating in DEC, I think we’re going to achieve a great a deal of that goal.
“The other piece to it is bringing our community partners on board while they’re passionate,” she continued.
“So within the next month, we’re hoping to act on this and not just wait until January, when things are quiet.
“Essentially, getting on it right away when everybody still has it fresh in their mind and the passion is still there,” Maki stressed.
“Clearly there is a reason to do this,” she said.
“We’re all responsible, we’re all accountable, and I think that we recognize the problem.”