During the last week of October, more than 300 law enforcement officers, social workers, treatment providers, prosecuting attorneys, and other professionals from the across the country arrived in Des Moines, Iowa, for the 9th annual National Alliance for Drug Endangered Children (National DEC) conference.
It is estimated that over nine million children live in homes where a parent or other adult uses illegal drugs. Children growing up in such environments are three times more likely to be verbally, physically, or sexually abused and four times more likely to be neglected than their peers who are not exposed to caregiver’s drug use. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) has worked hard for the last 6 years to support the work of National DEC, because of the important role that law enforcement plays in identifying these young victims and helping to connect them to services—work that, through its emphasis on multidisciplinary cooperation, embraces the philosophy of community policing.
This year’s conference, held in partnership with the Iowa Alliance for Drug Endangered Children and the Iowa Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, provided training on the latest research and best practice strategies for identifying and serving drug endangered children and promoted multidisciplinary collaborative advances in practice, research, and policy aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect. Chuck Noerenberg, President of National DEC, welcomed the participants and said “This national conference provides professionals from all over the country an important opportunity to learn how to enhance their efforts to help children living in dangerous drug environments.”
Breakout sessions covered a variety of issues, such as the role of educators in identifying DEC, successful collaborations between law enforcement and child welfare, addressing prescription drug abuse, DEC in Indian Country, frameworks for prosecution of DEC cases, providing family-based substance abuse intervention services, best practices of family treatment courts, and the role of parole in a multi-disciplinary DEC response. Plenaries included presentations on research into the health risks associated with indoor marijuana grow operations; what we know about stopping the transgenerational cycle of addiction; and an energetic presentation by Dr. Jim Verlengia on understanding the power of attitude when facing professional challenges, which served as a reminder of how we can effect change and have a real impact on the lives of those around us.
COPS Office Director Bernard Melekian addressed the attendees on the second morning of the conference, speaking on the importance of why everyone was there. “The better the availability of training opportunities focused on identifying and helping drug endangered children, the better chance we have of making this a central part of law enforcement’s mission to serve and protect,” said Melekian. “And it needs to be clear that there is an alternative to the violence and fear that is part of the daily lives of these children.” He also spoke about the COPS-funded work being carried out by the Colorado Alliance for Drug Endangered Children to expand the use of their Drug Endangered Children Tracking System (DECSYS) across the country. In the last 2 years, DECSYS has been credited with a 150 percent increase in the number of drug endangered children brought to the attention of child protective services in certain Colorado counties. This easy-to-use tool will soon launch in Nevada and Wisconsin.
Melekian was joined in Des Moines by a number of other federal and state officials, including Deputy Attorney General James Cole; U.S. Attorneys Barry Grissom, Nicholas Klinefeldt, and Sean Berry (for the District of Kansas and the Southern and Northern Districts of Iowa respectively); as well as the Deputy Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Benjamin Tucker; Iowa Governor Terry Branstad; and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. Deputy Attorney General Cole serves as the chair of the Federal Interagency Task Force on Drug Endangered Children, and he spoke about the responsibility we all share to ensure the health and safety of these young, vulnerable members of our communities, as well as about the efforts the Task Force has made to elevate the issue of drug endangered children and to increase coordination at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels. All of the officials praised the work the attendees do on a daily basis for drug endangered children.
During the Collaborative Leadership Award ceremony on the second day of the conference, five attendees were honored for their work on behalf of drug endangered children: Esther Larsen, Director of the Spokane County (WA) DEC Project; Dr. Cheryl May, Director of the University of Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute; Warren Mitchell, Detective with the Greenville (TX) Police Department; Lilas Rajee-Moore, Director of TASC and Treatment Courts for the Denver (CO) Juvenile Probation Department; and Jennifer Sleiter, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Blank Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Polk County (IA) DEC Alliance. The awardees were nominated by their peers for their outstanding efforts to create, enhance, or promote organizational change and effective collaborations to address the issue of drug endangered children. The awards were presented by Deborah Spence, a supervisory analyst with the COPS Office, who said of the honorees, “They are champions for the children, for their families, and for all of our communities. Each of them goes well beyond what they were hired to do, to accomplish what they clearly have been called to do, and they inspire others in the process.”
National DEC’s 2013 conference is slated to be held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in the fall of 2013. Watch this Dispatch for dates and registration information. Information will also be available on National DEC’s website: www.nationaldec.org.
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