April 5, 2006

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) and our nearly 900 public and private nonprofit, child-serving member agencies nationwide applaud the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for addressing the issue of methamphetamine (meth) use and its impact on children and on state and tribal child welfare systems serving tribal communities.

CWLA appreciates the attention and focus the Committee is providing on meth use. We commend you for focusing on two areas that have not received enough attention, the impact on Indian country and the impact on child welfare agencies and services. The spread of meth knows no boundaries and is proliferating to many states and communities not touched by its use just a few years ago. Indian country has not been exempt from the impact of this latest substance abuse problem. As part of our effort to contribute to your hearings and oversight, CWLA has gathered the following information both through research and through contact with our members in key parts of the country.

The Impact of All Parental Substance Abuse on Children

Although the focus of this hearing is on the issue of growing manufacture and use of meth, CWLA urges this Committee, and all members of Congress, to address the impact of all substance abuse on the children that are forced to enter the child welfare system as a result of parental substance abuse addictions. Alcohol and other drug problems devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of American children and their families each year. A major factor in child abuse and neglect, substance abuse is associated with the placement of at least half of the children in the custody of child welfare agencies. 1 Some estimates indicate that substance abuse is a factor in as many as two-thirds of cases of children with substantiated reports of abuse and neglect and in two-thirds of cases of children in foster care. 2 Furthermore, children whose parents use drugs or alcohol are three times more likely to be abused and four times more likely to suffer from neglect. 3

While addressing this issue, it is important to not lose sight of the fact that substance abuse is a treatable public health problem with cost-effective solutions. We need to craft policies that recognize these interventions as important components of a comprehensive drug policy. Good assessment, early intervention, and comprehensive treatment are key to determining when and if a child can safely stay at home or be reunited with his or her family. 4 Information provided by SAMHSA indicates that women who participate in comprehensive substance abuse treatment longer than three months are more likely to remain alcohol and drug free (68%) than are those who leave treatment within the first three months (48%). 5 SAMSHA data also indicates that 75% of those women receiving comprehensive substance abuse treatment have physical custody of one or more children six months after treatment discharge.

Child Maltreatment in Tribal Communities

Accurate child maltreatment rates for the American Indian/Alaskan Native population is difficult to capture due to a variety of factors. These include differences in abuse definitions between “various sovereign Indian nations, overlapping and conflicting jurisdictions,
[and a] lack of resources to assist tribal workers in reporting figures.” 6

The most recent data available shows that in 2003, 13,335 American Indian/Alaskan Native children were victims of abuse or neglect. 7 Of this, 11,137 American Indian/Alaskan Native children were in out of home care. 8

Researchers have shown that even the data collected is sparse and does not fully reflect the full extent of abuse and neglect in the communities. Less than half the states are involved in tribal investigations. So information collected through federal data collection reporting systems is limited. 9

The Impact of Methamphetamine Manufacture and Use on Child Welfare

The topic of this hearing is important because the most lasting effects of meth are on innocent children. Parental chemical dependency affects the well-being of all children involved. Parental substance abuse is a common factor in the majority of reports of child abuse and neglect, as it directly affects the ability of many parents to care for their children.

The use and spread of meth poses one of the more significant threats to children within the last several years. The devastation meth imposes on individuals, families, and communities, marks it as the most dangerous drug in America for the second consecutive year. 10 Meth use and distribution continues to be a critical and growing concern for the child welfare community. A 2005 survey by the National Association of Counties revealed that meth is creating a disastrous impact on communities and children. Child welfare officials responded that meth was the cause of 40% of out-of-home placements last year, and 59% stated that meth use is creating increased difficulty in family reunification. 11

It has been suggested that in the 1980s, crack-cocaine caused a dramatic increase in the number of children entering foster care and today some would make the same argument about the use of meth and its impact on child welfare. There is one stark difference that is also an important lesson for national policymakers. The crack-cocaine problem began in our urban centers and spread from there. The meth problem started in areas that are more rural and is now spreading into a truly national epidemic. One of the tasks for policymakers is to make sure that wherever these challenges emerge, from rural or urban areas, they must be addressed as a national problem. The problems created by substance abuse constitute an ever-present national challenge that requires our child welfare system to be prepared to address the impact on children.

Increasing use of meth has challenged the abilities of child welfare agencies (tribal, state, and private) to protect the children involved. Child welfare agencies are forced to focus more of their time and resources on children impacted by meth and, as a result, essential child abuse and neglect prevention and support funds are diverted to providing foster care.

Children face many hazards while living in meth labs and are often the victims of maltreatment. In homes where drug addiction is present, necessities such as food, water, supervision, shelter, and medical care may only be an afterthought. Children can also be exposed to dangerous chemicals and the risk of explosions. As of 2003, fires or explosions occurred in 15% of meth labs. 12

Studies have shown that meth production environments produce immediate and long-term health risks. Exposure to the precursor chemicals used in the manufacturing of meth can result in pulmonary irritation and pulmonary edema; severe corneal irritation; upper respiratory tract damage resulting in permanent lung damage; and bronchospasm, vocal cord dysfunction, and lung fibrosis among healthy adults. 13 For children, these effects are multiplied. The complete and lasting long-term health effects for children exposed to meth environments are not fully known, however, recent reports from physicians and psychologists reveal significant concerns about the physiological and psychological conditions of children exposed to these environments. 14

Between 2000 and October 15, 2005, methamphetamine lab seizures by local or federal law enforcement affected 15,192 children. 15 Early reports reveal that nearly 3,800 children were exposed to toxic chemicals, 96 were injured, and 8 died because of meth labs. 16 This does not account for the other meth-affected children who entered foster care through reports of abuse or neglect, or those who were never reported to state officials. The figures are considered underreported, as many states are only beginning to collect data representing the presence of children in a lab site. While it is important to document the number of meth labs seized, they account for only a small level of meth available in communities. While the passage of recent legislation aimed at preventing the home manufacturing of meth has resulted in decreases in meth labs, the National Drug Threat Assessment reports that this is easily offset by the increased production and distribution from Mexico. 17 More than 80% of the nation’s meth supply is being imported to the U.S.

Child welfare workers report that the needs of children removed from meth labs are great when they experience prolonged periods of neglect. Outside of the immediate physical health concerns, these children may exhibit greater social, educational, emotional, and behavioral challenges than other children who enter foster care. 18 The lack of parental attention has not allowed the children to achieve appropriate levels of development and a child may face confusion and doubt in terms of which they can trust. These children have difficulty associating with peers and lack guidance in their everyday actions. 19

We lack strong, reliable tribal specific information on the above factors, which speaks to the necessity of increasing the partnership of federal, state and tribal governments in the planning and response to meth.

Existing data on meth use affecting tribal communities is startling. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 1.7% of the American Indian/Alaska Native population reporting meth use in the past year. 20 This rate is only behind Native Hawaiians (1.9%) and those of two or more races (1.9%) as the highest rates of use. 21 Less than one percent of White, non-Hispanics, reported using meth in the past year 22, even though they account for 72.7% of those entering treatment with meth as a primary focus. 23 Native Americans represented only 2.2% of those entering treatment due to meth use. 24

CWLA Member Experiences

CWLA members, representing the front line workers of child abuse investigations and care, have indicated that the impact of meth use on children and families in their communities is high. Stories are at times hard to imagine and heartbreaking. The current meth epidemic has devastated the lives of many in rural and tribal communities.

In one current case, a family was found to be living in their van that had been used as a mobile meth-lab. The family consisted of the mother, father, uncle and two girls’ ages 5 and 6. The children did not know their own ages or birthdates, could not remember the last time they had showered or bathed, were covered in lice, and had few academic skills. The older of the two had obviously taken on a parental role in order to help and protect her younger sister and took on such responsibilities as picking lice out of her sister’s hair. The girls living and sleeping space was limited to a seat in the van that was shared with their Uncle. The rear of the van was packed with the family belongings including additional clothes that were damp and moldy.

Enforcement officials and social workers documented that chemicals were stored next to the girls in such a way that they were forced to step over them to enter and exit the vehicle. Weapons, including a loaded gun and two knives, were stored in easy reach of the children. Family photos were also found in the van that included pictures of the girls next to a fully set-up lab in the cooking phase. This type of environment has become an all-to-common experience for children living in toxic environments.

The impact of methamphetamine production and use has not only affected children and their immediate families. A Utah member agency reports that 100% of kinship caregivers in their grand families program are raising kin’s children due to problems of substance abuse and nearly all of those are connected to meth.

The Impact of Methamphetamine on the Child Welfare Workforce

Tribal and state child protection workers are often among the first to investigate potential meth labs based on reports of neglect or abuse filed by schools, neighbors, or others. Child protection workers who perform investigations face extreme risk of physical safety due to users’ heightened sense of paranoia, which can result in assaults against workers. Also, unknowing workers are at risk of chemical contamination as they enter the home.

As a result several state legislatures have enacted provisions within the past year that set strict protocols for child protection workers to follow if they suspect a meth lab is present. For example, a responder who suspects a meth lab should immediately leave the area, without informing potential suspects, and inform law enforcement of the situation.

Child protection workers also face additional challenges finding appropriate foster parents to provide care for children removed from families as a result of meth use. Eligible foster parents may not be willing or have the ability to accept children removed from these homes for fear of possible contamination and due to some children’s behavioral problems that may require intensive therapy following removal.

CWLA’s Recommendations

CWLA strongly recommends that federal legislation focused on the growing meth dangers in this country include addressing the impact on children of parental meth use. Much of the recent focus and attention on the meth problem has been on the law enforcement response and action. Legislation is needed to strengthen the capacity of child welfare agencies who respond in order to protect children from abuse and neglect where meth is involved; enhance services for children removed from these homes; and increase prevention efforts for abuse and neglect. Congress can address these issues in several ways.

  1. CWLA urges Congress to ensure that Native American tribes are full partners in addressing the problem of meth use.
    All too often, tribal communities are left out of legislative solutions and funding. As members of this Committee and other congressional committees consider proposals that would provide funding to address the particular challenges created by this substance abuse problem, we urge you to provide tribes with direct access to these federal resources. Whether funding is appropriated or authorized to address the interdiction, law enforcement, treatment, child welfare or workforce challenges now being created by meth, Congress has the duty to make sure tribes have direct access to these resources and recognize their authority to design interventions that are appropriate in Indian country.
  2. Congress must pass S. 672 to provide Tribal Access to Title IV-E funds.
    Legislation currently before the Senate, S. 672 the Indian and Alaska Native Foster Care and Adoption Services Amendments of 2005, introduced by Senator Gordon Smith and co-sponsored by at least four members of this Committee including the Chair, Senator John McCain, would allow tribal governments direct access to Title IV-E Foster Care and Adoption Assistance. While not specific to the substance abuse problem, these federal funds are the single largest federal source of support to our nation’s child welfare system. These funds subsidize foster care placements and adoption assistance. Tribes currently do not have access unless they can work out mutual agreements with state governments. Only about 70 of our 576 federally-recognized tribes have been able to reach such agreements, and many of these are of very limited in scope. The child welfare systems of tribal communities are massively underfunded, and this issue is of extreme urgency for Congressional action.
  3. Congress must complete action on S. 1899, the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Act.
    We urge members of the Senate and House to follow through on this Committee’s recent work and to pass S. 1899, the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Act. We also urgently recommend that Congress make clear its recognition of this priority in Indian country by fully funding the programs authorized by the act.
  4. Congress must approve new resources for states and tribes to provide the substance abuse treatment necessary for parents involved in the child welfare system.
    The Child Protection/Alcohol and Drug Partnership Act would provide new resources for a range of state activities to improve substance abuse treatment for families in the child welfare system. State child welfare and substance abuse agencies, working together, would have the flexibility to decide how best to use these new funds to enhance treatment and services. This bipartisan legislation, sponsored in previous sessions by Senator Olympia Snowe and Senator John Rockefeller and others from both parties, would enhance efforts to address substance abuse treatment as it affects child welfare systems. As part of this, Congress must ensure that tribal communities are partners in this effort in both planning and funding.
  5. CWLA urges Congress to maintain, strengthen, and broaden the access to Title IV-E training funds.
    As the challenge of parental substance abuse increases in many parts of the country, child welfare workers (including tribal, public and private agency workers) need to be well prepared. A small but important source of child welfare training is provided through Title IV-E Training dollars. Currently, federal funds cannot be used to provide training for private agency workers or court personnel who are involved in making decisions and providing services for abused and neglected children. Neither is this funding directly available to tribal programs, as emphasized earlier. This source of funding could enhance worker training if Congress were to amend the law as some recent legislative proposals have suggested, increase the appropriations available in response to the current epidemic, and expand the access to include all governmental and non-governmental agency staff that are required to intervene.
  6. Congress must take action to ensure the full implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), passed in 1978.
    This act sets forth the requirements of practice for state and county agencies and courts, when Indian children are taken into custody due to abuse or neglect. It makes clear the authority of tribes to intervene, to transfer jurisdiction from state to tribal court, and to provide services.

    Because there is no federal agency with clear statutory authority to oversee implementation, of ICWA, states have not consistently complied with this federal legislation. This issue is documented in a GAO study released in March of 2005 25, which recommends the Department of Health and Human Services as the federal agency in the best position to provide this required oversight. Congress must act to clarify this responsibility once and for all.

    A related issue is the lack of reliable state data on the status of Indian children. The GAO report recommends the development of appropriate data requirements for states, which must likewise be set within HHS as part of its oversight of the state SACWIS systems.

    A third critical issue in state ICWA compliance is that the Act envisioned full funding of tribal child welfare programs so that tribes would have the capacity to assume jurisdiction and provide the required services. Congress failed to appropriate this funding. Consequently, many tribes are not well positioned to assume the full authority they already have, and lack their own tribal court systems and service agencies.


CWLA commends the Committee for its focus on meth and the impact it plays on Indian country and on child welfare. The dangers of meth to children, the child welfare community, and the tribal community are such that it demands the immediate attention of Congress. Ensuring that tribal communities are full partners in the effort, Congress must act to support the establishment of enhanced meth treatment programs, allowing individuals to receive the help needed. Effective practice modalities must be established for child welfare workers that protect their safety. Greater research is needed to determine the long-term effects of this substance abuse problem. Education efforts must begin for our children, youth, and tribal communities that detail the dangers associated with meth and seek to curb future use. These efforts must also be targeted at those areas that are not currently experiencing a problem. Above all else, services and protection for the children removed from meth homes must be secured and strengthened. The capacities of tribal, state and county governments to intervene safely and to provide protections consistent with the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act must be ensured.

CWLA looks forward to working closely with this Committee to further promote the safety and security of the nation’s children.


  1. Child Welfare League of America. (1997). Alcohol and Other Drug Survey of State Child Welfare AgenciesAvailable online. Washington, DC: Author. 
  2. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means. (2004). Substance Abuse, Section 11.In 2004 Green Book. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 
  3. Wells, K. & Wright, W. (2004, Sept. 14). Medical Summit. Presented at Idaho’s Second Annual Drug Endangered Children Conference, Post Falls, Idaho. Available online
  4. Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy. (1998). Major new study finds drug treatment as good as treatments for diabetes, asthma, etc., and better and cheaper than prison. (Press release of a study sponsored by Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy). Available online. Providence, RI: Author. 
  5. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2001). Benefits of residential substance abuse treatment for pregnant and parenting women: Highlights from a study of 50 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment demonstration programs. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA. 
  6. Cross, T. L. Earle, K. A., & Simmons, D. (2000). Child abuse and neglect in Indian country: Policy issues. Families in Society, 81, 49-58. As cited in Fox, Kathleen, A. (2003). Collecting data on the abuse and neglect of American Indian children. Child Welfare, 82, 707-726. 
  7. U.S. Children’s Bureau. (2005). Child maltreatment 2003: Reports from the states to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data SystemAvailable online. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 
  8. Ibid. 
  9. Fox, K., A. (2003). Collecting data on the abuse and neglect of American Indian children. Child Welfare, 82, 707-726
  10. U. S. Department of Justice. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2006). National drug threat assessment 2006. DOJ publication No. 2006-Q0317-001. Available online. Washington, DC: Author. 
  11. National Association of Counties. (2005). The meth epidemic in America. Two surveys of U.S. counties.Available online. Washington, DC: Author. 
  12. Swetlow, K. (2003). Children at clandestine methamphetamine labs: Helping meth’s youngest victims. OVC Bulletin. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime. 
  13. Martyny, J.W., Arbuckle, S.L., McCammon, C.S., & Erb, N. (2004). Chemical exposures associated with clandestine methamphetamine laboratories using the anhydrous ammonia method of production.Available online. New York: National Jewish Medical and Research Center. 
  14. Martyny, J.W. (2005). Congressional testimony to the U. S. House of Representatives Committee on ScienceAvailable online
  15. United States Department of Justice. Drug Enforcement Administration. (Unpublished report, November 2005). (Report generated by El Paso Intelligence Center’s National Clandestine Laboratory Seizure System and made available through the Freedom of Information Act). Washington, DC: Author. 
  16. Office of National Drug Control Policy (2005). Drug endangered children (DEC)Available online
  17. U. S. Department of Justice. National Drug Intelligence Center. (2006). National drug threat assessment 2006. DOJ publication No. 2006-Q0317-001. Available online. Washington, DC: Author. 
  18. Hohman, M., Oliver, R., & Wright, W. (2004). Methamphetamine abuse and manufacture: the child welfare response. Social Work, 49, 373-381
  19. Swetlow, K. (2003). Children at clandestine methamphetamine labs: Helping meth’s youngest victims. OVC Bulletin. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime. 
  20. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Sciences. (2005).Methamphetamine use, abuse and dependence: 2002, 2003, and 2004. (National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report). Available online. Washington, DC.: Author. 
  21. Ibid. 
  22. Ibid. 
  23. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2005). Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS). Highlights – 2003. National admissions to substance abuse treatment services. (DASIS Series: S-27, DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 05-4043). Available online. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA. 
  24. Ibid. 
  25. U. S. General Accounting Office. (2005). Child Welfare: enhanced federal oversight of IV-B could provide states additional information to improve services. GAO-03-956. Available online. Washington, DC: Author.