Children suffer from parental meth use 4-3-07

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) - Just a couple of months ago, Dejah Bridges was trying to resist her labor contractions, knowing that a social worker would soon take custody of her newborn son. Like many struggling families in Washington and Idaho, Bridges and her husband, Christopher, had battled drugs and homelessness and already had three children placed in foster care. Still, the Bridges hoped it would be different this time - with the help of a pastor they had worked at getting clean and had found an apartment in Spokane, Wash.

``We can't live that life anymore,'' said Christopher Bridges, 28. ``Drugs take everything from you.''

So far, the effort has paid off. The Bridges regained custody of their son after he spent a week in foster care following his February birth. They have stayed sober, even though they used to score meth and marijuana from a drug house just a few blocks away from their new home.

``We're really optimistic over their progress,'' said Larry Whiston Sr., a ministry leader with Off-Broadway Family Outreach in Spokane. ``I'm pretty sure they have made it out.''

It's not easy. Parents with a history of drug and alcohol abuse present a challenge to the child welfare system, and the link between substance abuse and child maltreatment is particularly severe in the Inland Northwest, child welfare officials say.

In Idaho, the number of children placed in foster care doubled in the past decade, driven by an explosion in methamphetamine use. These children, experts say, typically spend more time in the foster care system, driving up expenses.

``We are seeing such an increase in substance abuse,'' said Karen Cotton, regional director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. ``These kids are left unattended, or the parents are not feeding them, or clothing them or just keeping them safe.''

In as many as 80 percent of cases of kids put in protective custody, substance abuse is a factor, Cotton estimates. The Washington attorney general's office estimates a similar percentage in Eastern Washington.

Both states have worked to add more resources to help parents. Washington added 22 new chemical dependency counselors within its child welfare system two years ago. Idaho has added training to help foster parents understand the drug problem facing families.

Idaho State Police Capt. Clark Rollins said one of the worst cases of neglect he's seen involved a preschool-age girl whose mother had a meth lab in the bathroom she shared with her daughter.

When detectives entered the home, the mother was out on a drug run and the ``baby sitter'' was passed out in a chair. A plate of meth was found on the bed the girl shared with her mother and there were syringes on the floor. The girl tested positive for the drug.

``Developmentally, she was very far behind both physically and mentally,'' Rollins said.

The child now lives in another state with her father, Rollins said.

``Almost all the cases we've reviewed involve some form of chemical dependency,'' noted Toni Lodge, a member of the Local Indian Child Welfare Advisory Committee, a body established by federal law to advise on Indian child welfare cases.

In Spokane County, Wash., and Kootenai County, Idaho, law enforcement removed more than 150 children last year, the majority from drug homes.

Kootenai County authorities placed 77 children with Child Protective Services last year and about two-thirds of those involved drug or substance abuse, Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said.

In Spokane, 75 children were put into protective custody by county law enforcement, slightly less than the previous year, when nearly 100 kids were pulled from houses where drugs were a factor.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review,