Meth's impact reaches child protection system

Tuesday, December 6th 2005, 8:43 am
By: News On 6

ANOKA, Minn. (AP) _ For a premature baby delivered by a woman addicted to methamphetamine, little Logan Meir was coming along pretty well.

Doctors treating his underdeveloped palate had removed the tracheal tube he was breathing through and had sewn up the hole. If all went well, he would be ready for adoption in just a few days.

``The doctors say he will never run a marathon or climb a mountain, but otherwise he should be normal,'' his social worker, Libbie Pelletier, told Anoka County Judge Jenny Walker Jasper.

Like most of the cases Walker Jasper handled that day, Logan's highlighted yet another consequence of the meth epidemic: The drug has become a huge issue in child protection cases anywhere the drug has invaded.

``There is no drug better suited to making horrible decisions about your children than methamphetamine, which keeps you awake for days and then when you crash it's like the sleep of a coma, during which you have no idea what's happening with those kids,'' said Roger Munns, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services.

A survey released in July by the National Association of Counties said 40 percent of child welfare officials in 13 states reported increased out-of-home placements because of meth in the past year.

In Minnesota, some judges say as much as 80 percent of their child protection caseload is meth-related. On a recent day in Walker Jasper's courtroom, all but a handful of the 30 child protection cases on her docket involved meth.

``It's pervasive around the country,'' said Laura Birkmeyer, chair of the National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children and executive assistant U.S. attorney for San Diego. ``Every state that is seeing a large increase in methamphetamine manufacturing is seeing the concomitant problem of drug-endangered children.''

Even where child protection caseloads aren't growing, officials say, the proportion that involve meth is often on the rise, and those cases are among the most difficult to handle.

Meth fuels domestic violence, and kids can get caught in the middle. They also fall victim to criminals and predators who hang out with drug-using parents.

``Those guys can be pretty mean and violent,'' said Ann Stackpool-Gunderson, supervisor in charge of child protection for Isanti County. ``Kids will come to school with bruises. We've had calls to law enforcement from older children _ teens wanting to protect their youngest siblings.''

In some cases, people carry out the dangerous process of making methamphetamine in homes where children are present, exposing kids to toxic and explosive chemicals as well as the drug itself.

Between cases, Walker Jasper said that Logan's mother, Michelle Sydow, once was doing well in her struggle against addiction. She'd moved to northern Minnesota to get treatment. She got her teeth fixed _ a common side-effect of meth abuse is a disastrous collapse in dental health known as meth mouth.

``She looked like a million bucks,'' Walker Jasper said.

Sydow should have stayed up north, but she moved back to the Twin Cities metro area, fell in with her old friends and started using again, the judge said. Logan was born at 27 weeks _ roughly 10 weeks premature _ with meth in his system, she said.

Sydow didn't appear for the hearing on Logan, now 2. But she was in Walker Jasper's courtroom later that day to fight the county's efforts to terminate her parental rights to her daughters, ages 12 and 6, who are in foster care.

The mother's attorney acknowledged to Walker Jasper that her client had slipped, but said she had a job and a home and would be returning to treatment.

The 12-year-old sat in the courtroom, with her own attorney by her side, but mother and daughter kept their distance. They exchanged uneasy glances but did not speak as they left after the judge set a pretrial hearing date for January.

``She's really disappointed in her mom _ and she should be,'' Walker Jasper said afterward.