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State to track kids at risk of abuse due to drugs

By From staff and wire reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three police agencies in West Virginia are teaming up to help children who are being put at risk of abuse or neglect because of their parents' prescription drug abuse.

State Police and sheriff's departments in Kanawha and Putnam counties will begin participating in the Drug Endangered Children Tracking System (DECSYS) on July 1. Every felony drug arrest in the two counties will be entered into the system and the information will be shared with child protection workers.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said the goal is to help child protection workers identify situations in which children are abused or neglected.

Prescription drug abuse cases that include child abuse or neglect appear to be increasing in West Virginia, Baylous said.

Troopers were called earlier this week to a St. Albans area home when a 9-year-old girl called to report her father had threatened her with a knife.

Officers arrested the man and his girlfriend after finding his two daughters, aged 9 and 3, had been living in filthy conditions. The trooper found marijuana seeds, prescription drugs and drug paraphernalia were also found in the home.

CPS removed the children from the home and placed them in foster care. 

Andrea Darr, the program manager for the Drug Endangered Children's Program and an employee at the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorney's Institute, said Colorado Alliance for Drug Endangered Children started the pilot program a few years ago and had success with it. 

Colorado's two-year six-county pilot program saw thousands of cases being entered into the online system, which is accessible only by law enforcement and CPS workers. By early 2012, the alliance reported 60 percent of children found previously were not present upon a subsequent arrest, according to a handout from the Colorado group.

"Children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs are (three times) more likely to be verbally, physically, or sexually abused," the handout read. "And (four times) more likely to be neglected."

Darr said the Colorado alliance was looking to expand the pilot program into other states. She lobbied hard for West Virginia to be included and succeeded.

"We, like other states, have a lot of drug issues," Darr said. "Prescription drugs are a serious problem and meth is on the rise again." 

She said it was important to note that the program does not take the place of mandated reporting of children being abused or neglected. Information from each felony arrest where children are involved is entered into the secure database within seven days.

The program just allows an easy way to share information between officers and CPS workers, she said. Darr called it a way to share information "so kids don't fall through the cracks."

"We've always had drug endangered children, but when meth hit West Virginia really hard in 2004 it hit children hard, too," Darr said. "Before that they were just bystanders, but (the meth outbreak) turned them into victims.

"Kids do not choose their parents."

Baylous cited several recent incidents, including one in April in which an infant in Logan was kidnapped and dropped on railroad tracks. Investigators believe the suspect was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

A toddler in Belington died after in March after she was given illegally purchased methadone. Police charged both her mother and father earlier this month with death of a child by a parent.

"For several years, leaders within our State have been discussing and debating the prescription drug epidemic and illegal street drugs. As with any type of criminal activity, innocent people are negatively affected," State Police Superintendent Col. James Smithers said in a press release.

"In the case of prescription and illegal street drug abuse our children are the casualties, as they are often being neglected and abused by their parents or guardians."

Baylous said State Police officials hope the tracking system will be implemented statewide in the future.

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