NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Middle Tennessee law enforcement are working to help children as they are finding more drugs inside homes – many times the kids present are under the age of 18.
What happens when their parent or guardian is locked up because of the incident?
It’s an alarming trend Executive Director of Schools Together Allowing No Drugs (STAND), Trent Coffey, says he fears will get worse, especially in rural communities. “We are usually behind the trends, but when it hits us, it hits us hard.”
He is talking about hard drugs like heroin and fentanyl, that are making their way into homes and creating a devastating impact on children. Coffey says with every case, there is a consequence.
“We are dealing with the resources that we have; we’re dealing with the worse or the worse after consequence; we say, like after they get charged,” says Coffey.
Over the past three years, the number of children in homes connected to a drug allegation was highest in 2019, with more than 43,000 claims in the state. These claims can sometimes lead to an arrest.
“When a parent or someone gets a charge, or there’s an allegation or something like that, the state with the resources they have are good at bringing in the Department of Children Services, and then looking to see if that child is safe seeing – if they need to do an alternate placement,” explains Coffey.
Coffey says it’s all about early detection by training staff to look for signs of trouble in the home, but once an allegation turns into an arrest, another process starts.
He says one part of STAND involves helping a child in the moments directly following an arrest. For example, if a child is present while a parent or guardian is being arrested, the organization is able to contact a point person at the child’s school to give them a warning to look out for any behavioral issues that may arise.
“If there is something that comes up, we know that we may have to give a little grace, and maybe know there’s a situation that’s happening that we may just need to address, and maybe take that child to the side and give them some extra care,” Coffey says.
Organizations like STAND work with law enforcement to tackle the problem and a possible treatment plan. So far this year, more than 12,000 allegations have been made state-wide, but Coffey says that number could rise once children go back to in-person learning in the fall.
“We could see the deterioration of an attitude or a nutrition or something like that, even physical marks, bruises. We lost that day-to-day connection,” Coffey continues, “So, when we come back I believe that there will be a plethora of things that will pop up because it was unidentified before.”
He says oftentimes drug endangered children suffer mentally and physically, which is why intervention needs to happen fast.
Coffey says the organization depends on those around children to catch the warning signs, because government systems are often too overwhelmed to catch every case.
If you suspect a child is drug endangered, you can contact 1-877-866-6384 to report it to state officials.