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Officials: Drugs Often to Blame for Some Kids in State Custody

WRIGHT COUNTY, Mo. -- Southwest Missouri is leading the way for the number of children in state custody. Some members of law enforcement say they believe drugs are to blame.
WRIGHT COUNTY, Mo. -- Southwest Missouri is leading the way for the number of children in state custody. Some members of law enforcement say they believe drugs are to blame.

One county has had dozens of children removed from homes where drugs are being manufactured or sold just this year.

Some members of law enforcement see first hand what Missouri children are enduring.

"The houses are typically a bad mess. Stuff piled everywhere in the houses," Wright County Chief Deputy Bobby Willhite says.

Pictures from a home littered with trash and drug manufacturing debris show active shake-and-bake meth labs in a nursery, some of them under a baby's crib.

"There was one incident where we went into the house and they were actively cooking, when we opened the door and made a warrant entry the smoke, literally boiled above our heads," says Willhite. "You could see it coming out. There were children living in the house, it did make us all pretty sick." 

Law enforcement is confronted more frequently with removing children from the home.

"We're starting to see that quite a bit now" says Wright County Sheriff Adler. "You know, this year alone, along with Mountain Grove Police Department we've served a lot of search warrants. We've removed quite a few kids out of the house."

Based on the most recent statistics available from the Missouri Children's Division, in the 30 counties that make up the Southwest Missouri region there are 4,699 children in Children's Division custody, 1,761 are in foster care, 1,804 are with relatives and the remainder are in adoptive or group homes.

That is more children than any other region in the state.

"You just feel so sorry for these kids," says Adler.

Members of law enforcement believe it is the increased number of children being taken from homes with drugs.

"I can come off just the ones that I've been involved in," says Adler. "I am thinking at least 25 kids between my department and the Mountain Grove Police Department that have been removed out of these houses."

That is 25 are in state custody so far this year and, often times, they are found in deplorable condition.

"They are neglected and look at the stuff that is left in these house, needles, you got chemical stuff in there. I mean we all know what little kids do, they get curious and they start grabbing things," says Adler. "Well, as soon as we get on scene, if we find children in there we are required. We are mandated reporters and we have to make a hotline call or we call the on call case worker." 

Chief Deputy Whillhite says right now he doesn't have a solution for the war on drugs. He only knows part of the result.

"The people who are doing the crimes, you know, they try to tell us it's a victim-less crime," says Whillhite. "But, when you have your children, there, it's not.
The children are always the victim in the situation you know because their life is being uprooted, they're being placed, sometimes with people they don't know at all." 

Children removed from homes with meth can suffer sores, burns and respiratory issues.

Adler says the focus of law enforcement and the Missouri Department of Social Services Children's Division is to reunite the family. But, he says, much of that depends on the parents and whether they can beat their drug habits and clean up their homes.

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