“We must think of the children” is an oft-heard cliché touted by anti-drug advocates. It has come to represent a frustrating ideology, used as a catch-all argument against progressive ideals. It is encouraging, then, to see studies suggesting the platitude may be decidedly false. A Canadian study seems to have evidence doing just that, at least in the case of children in drug-producing homes. The experiment was conducted on 75 children who had been retrieved from homes found to be producing illicit drugs. The kids were immediately taken to a hospital, to be assessed for physical and mental well-being. And contrary to what the average reader might expect, the children were actually above average health in some cases. Obviously there are plenty of other reasons why such an environment is undesirable, but too often it seems that anti-drug hysteria takes precedence over the wellbeing of the children.
According to the report, the children had lower rates of eczema, asthma and learning disabilities. And while 26% of Canadian children are overweight, only 4% of those studied shared the now-widespread disorder. All kids involved who were enrolled in school were in suitable grades for their age, a fact that lead researcher, Dr. Gideon Koren states is an important indicator of well-being.
Unfortunately, nearly 1/3 of the children tested positive for illicit substances, however “in the majority there were no clinical symptoms related to these drugs.” 2 80% of the children came from homes producing marijuana, with 20% involved in methamphetamine, cocaine and MDMA. There were 4 children from homes producing cocaine, none of whom tested positive for the substance. Conversely, all four kids found in methamphetamine or MDMA manufacturing homes tested positive for the respective chemicals.
Still, pediatricians and researchers agree that sometimes, the risks involved in separating children from their parents is too high. The most commonly adopted children are 1-5 years old, and after this age chances of adoption drop dramatically. The lack of parental guidance during developmental times, coupled with the traumatic experience of being forcibly removed from a parent can be devastating for the children.
In America, the common practice is to immediately involve Child Protective Services if drugs are found in a home with a child. Children can be held by CPS for months, while investigations are held. Researchers and pediatricians agree that there should be no “black and white” rule for every child related to any drug. As Dr. Penny Grant, a pediatrician involved in the National Alliance of Drug Endangered Children says, “the paper points out that we shouldn’t lump all children and drugs into one basket.”
Dr. Koren advises, “this should not become a way to punish parents by punishing the kids.” Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies alike need to keep in mind the well-being of the child during drug investigations. Society must realize that other factors can make a drug manufacturing lab seem like a heavenly daycare compared to the dark reality of bouncing between foster homes indefinitely. Mandatory counseling and rehab for parents and constant CPS supervision should at least be attempted for the sake of keeping the salvageable families together.
The Canadian study was small, but touches on a crucial topic. With future experiments in the area, we should have solid data on the true dangers of indiscriminately removing children from otherwise loving, caring homes, simply because drugs were tangentially involved in the experience. It is not how many other crimes are are treated and it is not how drug law should operate either; the entire system requires a close inspection, and likely an entire overhaul.
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