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Deputy Attorney General James Cole Speaks at the Federal Interagency Drug Endangered Children Task Force Event


United States

On behalf of the Federal Interagency Drug Endangered Children Task Force and its members and supporters – and, more importantly, the millions of voiceless children across this Nation who are forced to survive unimaginable home lives – I want to thank you all for coming to this Public Awareness Event.  That I am joined on this stage by the Attorney General, the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Administrator of the DEA – and the fact that eight federal agencies and 21 components of the Department of Justice make up the DEC Task Force – speaks volumes about the importance of this initiative not only to the Department of Justice, but also to the Administration. 

On a more personal level, when I was sworn in as Deputy Attorney General – much like my predecessor, Gary Grindler – I was immediately drawn to this issue and have remained committed to supporting the mission of the DEC Task Force.  When you hear about these children, you cannot help but feel compelled to make a lasting difference in their lives.  The statistics are staggering:

Roughly 9 million children  - almost 13% of the child population - live in households where a parent or other adult uses, manufactures, or distributes illicit drugs;

In 81% of the reported cases of child abuse and neglect, substance abuse is rated as either the worst or second worst problem in the home; and

Drug Endangered Children are almost 60% more likely to be arrested.

And the reported stories are heart wrenching:

Parents prostituting their children to pay-off a drug debt;

Parents hiding their drugs in their child’s crib or in their child’s backpacks – using their children as mules and giving their children easy access to drugs;

Even parents who claimed to “love” their daughter repeatedly locked her in a cage in the yard (in frigid conditions) while they cooked meth in the house in an effort to minimize her chemical exposure while making sure she did not wander off – only to bring her back into the house while the fumes lingered.

Many of these children grow up living in squalid conditions and most are taught 3 Basic Rules at a very early age: (1) Don’t Talk; (2) Don’t Trust; and (3) Don’t Feel.

Otherwise Mommy and Daddy will go to jail.

At its core, our mission is two-fold:

Rescue these innocent victims from the harmful and, perhaps, fatal effects of these drug environments; and

Give these children a chance to reclaim their childhoods – full of love, laughter, and wonder, not danger, despair and death.

We are the only hope for survival for many of these drug endangered children.  For others, we are their only chance for a healthy and successful future.

As we have learned, increased law enforcement, alone, is not the answer.  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.

When a DEA Agent or a Deputy U.S. Marshal raids a meth lab or executes an arrest warrant, he or she must be properly trained to look for children or evidence of children in the home – and must be trained on how to approach that child, gather evidence of possible child neglect or abuse, and make sure that the child is properly removed from the situation (with minimal additional trauma), and does not thereafter fall through the cracks.  Communication among first responders and the greater community is absolutely essential.

This approach was first developed 20 years ago by one person with a vision and the passion to do whatever it took to make a difference in the lives of our Nation’s most vulnerable victims.  Sue Webber-Brown – who retired after serving 26 years as a law enforcement professional with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office – currently serves as the Director of the National Drug Endangered Children Training and Advocacy Center.  To date, she has personally rescued countless children from drug environments and persuaded many other people from all walks of life to join her life’s work.  Joining Sue on this journey is Holly Dye – who currently serves as the Executive Director of the Center.  Together, Sue and Holly speak to the Nation about this crisis and what can be done to make things better – one child at a time. 

Today, as we mark the one-year anniversary of the formation of the DEC Task Force, we join together to tell Sue and Holly – who are here with us today – that the Nation is listening and, more importantly, is beginning to act.  We stand by our friends and partners at the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children and thank its President Chuck Noerenberg and Senior Vice President of Education and Outreach Lori Moriarty – also here with us today – for their commitment to this cause and their leadership.

Speaking of our actions, I am proud to announce that the DEC Task Force is rolling out a number of tools to raise awareness and help train first responders and members of the community:

The Promising Practices Toolkit publication is geared toward increasing awareness among first responders, fostering community collaboration, and facilitating a more effective response in working with drug endangered children and their families.

The Drug Endangered Children Checklists are a series of lists developed for the various first responders who may come into contact with drug endangered children.  Modeled after the airline cockpit checklists, these checklists outline common signs of a drug endangered child and what to do if you suspect a particular child is in danger.  For law enforcement, the DEC Task Force also developed a laminated card – modeled after the Miranda warnings card – listing the steps necessary to rescue a child on scene and document a potential criminal case of child abuse or neglect.

Our partners in COPS have developed CDs for you to take home and share with your colleagues and partners.  These CDs contain the Toolkit and the Checklists as well as a host of other information and training tools.  I would like to thank our friends at COPS and its Director, Barney Melikien – who is with us here today – for their commitment to this noble cause.

About an hour ago, the DEC Task Force also launched a Website devoted to rescuing Drug Endangered Children.  This website – hosted by our partners at ONDCP – contains all of the tools I have been talking about and much more.  In addition to first responders, the website makes all of this information available to the general public and encourages communities to get involved.  I would like to thank our friends at ONDCP and Director Gil Kerlikowske and Deputy Director Benjamin Tucker for their leadership.

We celebrate these accomplishments but recognize that, just like this event, these tools are just the start of the conversation and engagement.  We welcome and encourage your feedback on these and any future efforts to make them more comprehensive and effective in the field.  The sharing of information and ideas is critical.

Going forward, the DEC Task Force plans to encourage and get involved with community responses to this critical mission.  Along those lines, I am pleased to report that, on Friday, May 27th, South Carolina U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles – who is with us here today – and Orangeburg County Solicitor David Pasco held the initial meeting of the DEC Community Response Team to bring together federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, other first responders, educators, and community groups who have expressed interest in participating on a multi-disciplinary team.  Thank you, Bill and David for your leadership and commitment to this cause.  We look forward to helping you achieve success stories and inspire others to follow in your footsteps.

And most importantly, I want to thank all of you for attending this event and for all that you have done and will continue to do to raise awareness to this issue and save the lives and futures of drug endangered children, one child at a time.

It is now my honor and privilege to introduce the members of the panel who will engage in a spirited debate about what is expected of and what is possible for the DEC Task Force.

Updated September 17, 2014