A Child Eye's View of Meth Abuse

Meth Kids Traumatized, But Resilent

Girl Crying Outside

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Children in homes where methamphetamine abuse has overtaken their parents are traumatized by the experience, many times left alone and hungry for days at a time, abused, forced to get high themselves, and even asked to steal and lie to authorities by the hyper and delusional adults in their lives.

In an effort to help kids forced into foster care by their parents' meth abuse, a 2007 report published in Children and Youth Services Review interviewed 18 children aged 7 to 14 from 12 families who were involved with the child-welfare system. At the time of the interviews, they had been in foster care from 5 to 39 months or an average of about 15.5 months.

"The aim of the study was to gather information that could help these children and others like them in the often-difficult adjustment to foster care and beyond," said lead researcher Wendy Haight, a former professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and currently, a professor at the school of social work at the University of Minnesota, in an interview with the Illinois News Bureau.

"We want to help foster parents understand more about what the child has gone through," said study co-author Teresa Ostler, a professor with the school of social work at UIUC. "A lot of it involves experiences of trauma, where the child needs huge help in putting things together and in making sense, in knowing that their feelings have reasons," Ostler said in an interview.

Haight told the Illinois News Bureau that methamphetamine "can have profound effects on the user," such as irritability and paranoia, and even experience heightened sexual arousal. She explained that meth users can go on highs that last for days and then sleep for days. "These are adults behaving in very unpredictable, dangerous ways, and the child is there too," Haight said.

Meth use in parents can be particularly terrifying for children because of the rapid breakdown that occurs in parenting.

Mostly, They Miss Their Parents

Haight told the Illinois news bureau that even despite their conditions, when the researchers asked children asked about 'sad or scary times,' they most often would talk about the experience of losing their parents. "Most want desperately to be with their families and feel a great deal of pain and grief over being separated from their parents," she said in the interview.

"Another complication is that some of these children had taken on the role of caring for their parents, as well as younger siblings, when their parents were under the influence. One child asked who would watch over her mother when she was 'sick,' " Haight said. "They also experience emotional harm from the stigma of being the children of methamphetamine users, many of whom face years in prison."

Regular Family Activities 'Culture Shock'

"The children often also carry a strong distrust of authority figures, passed on from their parents as a result of the criminal activity involved, sometimes reinforced by a meth-induced paranoia. Some have been actively socialized into a rural drug culture. It becomes a 'huge blockage' to intervention in some cases," Ostler told the Illinois News Bureau.

"For children raised from an early age with their parents using methamphetamine, even routine aspects of family life, like regular meal and bedtimes, may represent 'culture shock,' " the authors said.

Not Just Passive Victims

"Even with what many of these children have dealt with, they are not just passive victims," Haight said in the interview. Not only have they experienced these horrible situations, but they survived, and you can't help having some respect for that. They responded in a variety of ways, and were often very resourceful in the process."

The researchers recommend that additional resources and services, in particular, mental health services, need to be more accessible for these children and their foster parents.

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  1. Haight W, Ostler T, Black J, Sheridan K, Kingery L. A child's-eye view of parent methamphetamine abuse: Implications for helping foster families to succeed. Child Youth Serv Rev. 2007;29(1):1-15. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2006.03.007

  2. Chamberlain C. Illinois News Bureau. Study elicits 'child's eye' view of methamphetamine abuse and its effects. June 12, 2006.