NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Every year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation receives thousands of reports of children who are living in environments where they’re possibly exposed to illegal drugs.
In 2022, there were 42,581 allegations of drug endangered children in Tennessee, according to the TBI. It’s a problem that has spanned across the nation, with every fourth Wednesday of April dedicated to drug endangered children awareness.
As a part of National Drug Endangered Children Awareness Day on April 26, the TBI shared several facts about the impacts growing up in drug environments can have on children and how people can help children they suspect are living in dangerous environments.
According to the TBI, a drug endangered child is one whose brain or body had been affected because of his or her parent’s use of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, or a child who is living in a home where drugs are abused or illegally made or sold.
Often times, substance abuse can also be linked to child abuse, especially in the foster care system. A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse showed that substance abuse was present in 75% of incidents of abuse and neglect of kids in foster care.
While nearly 80% of children in foster care have had prenatal exposure to maternal substance abuse, which can cause damage to the child’s developing brain.
The TBI’s Tennessee Alliance for Drug Endangered Children works with multiple community partners to rescue, shelter and support children living in drug environments. However, the public can also help by looking for signs and evidence of risks to children.
People in certain professions may be able to identify risks to children earlier than others. According to the TBI, teachers, law enforcement officers, camp counselors, utility workers, medical workers and people in nurse-family partnerships are more likely to notice signs.
Drug exposed children may experience a variety of emotional and behavioral or cognitive problems, including difficultly talking and listening, worrying a lot, eating too much or not enough, attaching to strangers too easily, and more.
Unexplained cuts, welts, bruises, burns and other injuries, along with knowledge beyond their age of sexual activity and acting out by being destructive or threatening may also indicate that a child is being abused.
For more information on how you can help, as well as an extensive list of potential signs of a drug endangered child, click here.
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If you suspect a child is drug endangered, contact 1-877-866-6384, or to report suspected child abuse and neglect, contact the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services at 1-877-237-0004. In case of an emergency or life-threatening situation, call 911.