County blames meth for foster care jump

DANIELSVILLE, Ga. --- Twice as many Madison County children could land in foster care this year, a trend social workers say is driven by the scourge of methamphetamine addiction.

The county already has placed 23 children in foster care this year compared with 24 children in all of last year, said Lisa Plank, the director of the Department of Family and Children Services for Madison and Oglethorpe counties. Those numbers don't include children who were placed with a relative.

"It's something we're seeing all over Georgia," Ms. Plank said. "Meth is such a difficult habit to kick that parents are getting to the point that they're losing their child and everything else as well."

Last year, Madison County DFACS investigated 434 reports of child abuse and neglect, Ms. Plank said, and most were about parents' drug addictions or domestic violence.

In the past few years, more than two-thirds of Georgia's family and children service agencies have had to provide additional training to employees to deal with the effects of meth use, according to the Georgia Alliance for Drug Endangered Children.

The Madison County Sheriff's Office breaks up a lot fewer meth labs today than it did two years ago, but meth addiction still is a problem in the rural county, Sheriff Clayton Lowe said.

On average, deputies make two to three arrests each week for possession of meth and in many cases, children are involved, Sheriff Lowe said.

"A lot of times, the parents don't give the children the attention they deserve because they have other things on their minds," he said. "We've seen times when the parents just put the kid outside to play and never check on them again. Or the homes have been found in disarray."

Prescription medication is becoming the drug of choice in Madison County, Sheriff Lowe said. He worries deputies will soon start to see more children taken from their homes because their parents are too addicted to painkillers to take care of them.

Children of addicts must travel for court appointments and counseling, said Gary Locke, a Madison County DFACS board member, which leaves foster parents to deal with high gasoline costs. Mr. Locke recently asked county commissioners for an extra $6,000 to offset fuel costs, a request they approved.

Ms. Plank said the county is seeing more siblings put in foster care together, meaning more children to take to appointments. Foster parents will be allowed a fuel budget of $50 per month per child, she said.