Children: innocent witnesses of meth
Sometimes Mom prepares bologna sandwiches for her kids' school lunches. Other times she cooks up a batch of methamphetamine on the kitchen stove.
When she does, the strong smell of ammonia and other harsh chemicals fills the air, and chemicals spill on the floor where children play.
The children watch or sometimes are awakened as people come and go at odd hours. They wonder why their curtains are always closed. They wonder why they can't have friends over to play.
One morning, as officers arrest their mother and take her away, the children watch. They're always watching.
Life is not easy for the children of meth.
A stark reality
Dave Zoellner, Leavenworth County undersheriff, said that on April 3, officers seized a meth lab near Basehor. A mother and two sons, ages 9 and 10, were in the home.
This was the eighth meth lab seized in the southern half of Leavenworth County during the last 1 1/2 years. Of these eight, four were in homes. A total of eight children lived in three of those four homes.
In one of the houses, Zoellner said, a very young child slept in a carrier on the living room floor. Officers entering the house saw a mouse run on top of the child. In another room, two teenage children, a girl and a boy, slept together on the seat of a van that had been carried into the house. The mother and her boyfriend slept in a waterbed in the bedroom. It was the only real bed in the house.
One can only think about these children who are growing up in Leavenworth County, maybe next door, maybe down the road, and wonder:
What's it like to be a child growing up in a home where the mother is cooking meth instead of soup? Why is the mother is dealing drugs instead of caring for her family?
What is meth?
It is only in the last two years that law enforcement has cracked down on the production of methamphetamine in Leavenworth County. This, Zoellner said, is because there weren't very many, if any, people making meth here before that.
Also known as speed, or crank, methamphetamine has been called the poor man's cocaine. It was prescribed as a diet drug during the 1960s and later used to help truck drivers stay awake on cross-country hauls. Then intravenous methamphetamine abuse spread, and the users were called speed freaks.
Meth can keep a person awake for as long as 14 days, and it causes paranoia and hallucinations, severe mood disturbance and bizarre thoughts that last long after the chemicals wear off. Meth users suffer withdrawal symptoms similar to that of cocaine users.
Because meth can be manufactured using inexpensive and common products, users can make it at home. For a $100 investment, a batch of meth can be cooked that can sell for about $2,000 on the street.
A growing concern
Unfortunately, sometimes children do live in homes where meth is manufactured, said Scott Teeselink, senior special agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
According to Teeselink, the manufacture of meth in Kansas has increased drastically during the last six years.
Because of this increase, and because meth is commonly manufactured in the family home, it is likely that the health and welfare of more and more Kansas children could be threatened.
Sharon Watson, public information director for Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says these children live in physical danger at home.
"Anyone near these chemicals is at very high risk of being in a situation where there's going to be an explosion," Watson said.
Also, she said, the vapors given off during the methamphetamine cooking process are harmful to children. The vapor smells like acetone, or nail polish remover.
"Also, in the cooking area there may be spilled chemicals that children can get into or crawl into," she said.
Additionally, carpets, draperies and clothing can absorb the vapors. Watson said some of the chemicals used to produce meth contain known carcinogens, such as benzene.
"A lot of the times the lab is in an enclosed area and that can make the vapors and the chemical reactions that much more dangerous," Watson said.
And then there's school
Marilyn McGowan, counselor for the Basehor-Linwood elementary schools, said these children carry a heavy mental burden.
"I think the kids have to deal with the knowledge that maybe they're living in a place where things are going on that shouldn't be happening," McGowan said.
Further, if they make it to school, their concentration may be affected.
"A lot of the times these kids are more distracted during school because probably they're wondering what's happening at home," McGowan said. "Sometimes I see them not being able to concentrate well on school work. Sometimes there's a lot of desire for parental attention that just doesn't get met. Sometimes they'll need help with schoolwork or assignments and they just don't get the help they need at home."
Placement of children
Dorothy Hobbs, supervisor of children and family services and the child protection unit, Leavenworth County SRS, said that during the last few years, more children have been brought into the SRS system because of their parents' meth habits.
Children taken away from their parents, even when the homelife was less than desirable, can have difficulty adjusting.
"No matter how they've been treated, they're still their parents and if they've had the bonding, it's hard emotionally for the children to be separated from their parents," Hobbs said.
And if the parent or parents are convicted, the court will try to find family members who can keep the children, or if the children are older, family friends, who can take them in.
"Some of them end up in foster homes, but we try very hard not to have that happen," Hobbs said.
Usually, children whose parents make and sell methamphetamine appear to be fairly well provided for, Hobbs said.
"They're getting food, clothing and shelter and they're being sent to school," she said. "One thing about it is that parents don't want to have any kind of notice or anything out of the ordinary that would bring suspicion. Reports of neglect or abuse could make someone come out to check."
Is the proximity of children to the manufacturing of meth a trend that will continue in Leavenworth County?
"I hope not," Hobbs said. "I don't know."