According to a new study from Baylor University in the U.S., parents who abuse methamphetamines are more likely to harm or neglect their children. This in turn increases the chances of their children being taken into foster care.
The study found that for every 1% increase in meth abuse there was a 1.5% increase in children ending up in foster care. As the number of meth users continues to rise, this could have disastrous effects both on families and the foster care program.
"Our findings suggest strongly that the social costs of parental meth use include child maltreatment and growth in foster care placements," said Scott Cunningham, Ph.D., study co-author and assistant professor of economics at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business. "To address this, child welfare policies should be designed specifically for the children of meth-using parents."
The link between methamphetamine abuse and foster care was first noticeable in the 1980s and 90s. The U.S. foster care population increased by over 45% at around the same time meth addiction was becoming prevalent. Scientists have observed similar trends that link any drop in meth production to a similar decrease in foster care admission.
With an estimated 500 metric tons of amphetamine-type stimulants being produced every year, the effects of meth addiction on children are becoming painfully clear. In the U.S. 4.5% of students graduating from high school report having tried methamphetamine at least once in their lifetime. The effects of meth addiction are also hitting the families of addicts. Many children of meth addicts are only able to avoid foster care by moving in with grandparents.
A 2006 report by the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care, recommends granting subsidies and other help to grandparents who have been forced to care for their grandchildren. This would ease pressure on the foster care system while still keeping children in a familiar and loving environment.
"Public health professionals have observed these large social costs of methamphetamine production and use," Finlay said. "Our paper is one of the first to provide plausible causal evidence of these effects that are not borne by users but by children."
Many of methamphetamines effects on children are due to the type of people using the drug. Women are more likely to use meth than men and use of the drug among pregnant women has also been on the rise. Between 1995 and 2003, there has been an 86% increase in the number of pregnant women seeking treatment for meth addiction.
"Given the large social costs of meth use on child maltreatment, policymakers face a significant challenge to reduce its use," Cunningham said. "Regions with intensive meth use should consider greater resources for meth treatment and child welfare services. These areas have historically been rural or exurban and so may already be underserved. Our study also highlights the social benefits of policies restricting consumer access to methamphetamine ingredients, like pseudoephedrine."