Working Together to Help Children Exposed to Drugs and Violence

October 24, 2012

It is estimated that over 9 million children live in homes where a parent or other adult use illegal drugs. Children growing up in such a challenging environment are 3 times more likely to be verbally, physically, or sexually abused and 4 times more likely to be neglected.

This week, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Community Oriented Policing Services Office Director Bernard Melekian, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas Barry Grissom, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, Nicholas Klinefeldt, and  interim U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa Sean Berry attended the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children Conference in Des Moines, Iowa to support the efforts to find and help children growing up in dangerous drug environments. 

Deputy Attorney General James Cole spoke with urgency about the importance and responsibility we have to ensure the justice, health and safety of these vulnerable young members of our communities:

This work is difficult and gut-wrenching. We cannot simply arrest and prosecute our way out of the growing epidemic of drug abuse, trafficking, and addiction by parents and childcare providers.   Saving these children requires a multi-disciplinary approach involving coordinated teams comprised of law enforcement, child protective services, healthcare professionals, educators, victim service specialists, child advocates, courts, and the community.   It requires all of us.

As Chairman of the Federal Interagency Task Force on Drug Endangered Children,  Deputy Attorney General Cole has led the efforts to raise awareness; increase coordination at the federal, state, tribal and local levels; and provide assistance to the field. 

The DEC Task Force recently developed a combined resource CD for law enforcement and child welfare agencies; new training courses at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; and developed a drug endangered children resource website.

The National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (National DEC) is one of the DEC Task Force’s best allies. This year they received a $1.2 million in grants from the department. With this funding, they’ve transformed from an informal association of state leaders to a national voice for training, technical assistance, and advocacy on behalf of abused and neglected children.

COPS Director Melekian:

The better the availability of training opportunities focused on identifying and helping drug endangered children, the better chance we have of making this a central part of law enforcement’s mission to serve and protect.  And it needs to be clear that there is an alternative to the violence and fear that is part of the daily lives of these children…With the right tools and information, we can reduce the incidences of children’s exposure to violence and intervene more effectively.

In addition to the national organization, state-level DEC groups are finding innovative solutions to share with their state and federal partners.

For example, the COPS Office awarded the Colorado Alliance for Drug Endangered Children funding to expand their Drug Endangered Children Tracking System (DECSYS).  DECSYS is an easy-to-use, web-based system that allows law enforcement and child protection agencies an automated process for identifying children at risk.

This can expedite the identification of children in danger and bring them the assistance they need.  In the last two years, DECSYS has been credited with a 150 percent increase in the number of drug endangered children identified for child protective services.  It will soon launch in Nevada and Wisconsin.

U.S. Attorney Grissom spoke about coordination and collaboration:

Our coordination and collaboration with the Southern District of Iowa and the National DEC Alliance serves as an example of the power of partnerships;  this training will encourage partnerships, and provide tools for law enforcement, victim service providers, medical personnel,  welfare workers, educators  and other professionals to protect our most valuable resource, our children.    

While investigation and  prosecution will be discussed at this conference, the conference will focus on the importance of partnerships to assure the safety of children, enforce state and federal laws, and identify alternatives to incarceration that are designed to maintain,  or reunite families.

By bringing together federal, state and local resources with advocates, experts and community leaders, we can raise awareness of the plight of drug endangered children nationwide. We can increase coordination and intervene early to stop the cycle of violence and ensure these vulnerable citizens have the bright future full of promise they deserve.

To learn more about Drug Endangered Children, visit justice.gov/dec.