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Meth’s youngest victims

Children of meth lab homes are pulled from their families and placed into foster care. 

Days like these leave Child Protective Services Agent Joy Swing feeling like a drug counselor.

“It seems every case we get is drug-related,” says Swing as she makes another visit with someone whose children have been taken away because police suspected meth use in the home.

Swing talks with a man in his living room. The exchange is quick.  She tells the man his son won’t be coming back as planned.

Over the past five years, the man’s child is one of 85 who have been pulled from what police say are meth lab homes and placed into foster care. 

The number is so overwhelming for this rural community they’ve even had trouble placing some newborn babies.

It’s also something Clermont County Sheriff Tim Rodenberg never imagined would happen here.

“It actually rips up the fabric of your community in many ways, says Rodenberg, “Children are often involved at sites where meth labs are operating.”

Once thought to be a rural and small-town problem, meth use is spreading so quickly it’s now proving a major challenge even for the nation’s top drug enforcement officer, National Drug Control Policy Director John Walters.

“The damage this has done to children is the worst thing I’ve seen with regard to the meth problem,” says Walters. “I think it gives us an enormously powerful reason to act quickly.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency calls them “meth orphans,” and last year, the DEA says some 3,000 children were pulled from homes during meth lab seizures. 

That’s troubling, not just for the families involved, but for an already overburdened foster care system.

According to a National Association of Counties survey, during the past five years, 71 percent of responding counties in California reported an increase in out-of-home placements because of meth.  The number is 70 percent in Colorado, and in Minnesota, there was a 69 percent increase just in the last year.

For the fortunate few, there are scheduled, monitored visitations between separated parents and children.

But Swing acknowledges, “Now we have so many in foster care ... we’re running out of homes.”

And time is running out to warn others of a coming storm that’s already leaving its mark on rural America.