Cass County Youth Council, which aims to prevent child abuse and neglect, brought the National Alliance for Drug-Endangered Children (DEC) to Southwestern Michigan College.
The national non-profit’s mission is breaking multi-generational cycles of abuse and neglect by empowering practitioners to change the trajectory of the lives of children and families living in drug environments. About 30 people took part in day-long training March 18 in Mathews Conference Center East, including law enforcement, child welfare, prosecutors, judges, medical personnel, teachers, probation/parole/corrections, treatment providers and prevention specialists.
Desiree Dunomes, a 25-year social worker, and Tony Saucedo, a 29-year Michigan State Police veteran who is now state DEC coordinator, conducted the training. “When I worked in Benton Harbor there was a cocaine epidemic,” Dunomes said. “In Cass County now it’s opioids, prescription medications and meth. It looks different, but still puts our children in danger.”
“We looked at what training we could bring to Cass County that we don’t already have,” Youth Council President Sarah Mathews said. “It’s important for us to come out of our silos and communicate.” Developing a common vision can shift silos into interlocking jigsaw puzzle pieces.
DEC defines drug-endangered children as “at-risk of suffering physical or emotional harm as a result of illegal drug use, possession, manufacturing, cultivation or distribution. They may also be children whose caretaker’s substance misuse interferes with the caretaker’s ability to parent and provide a safe, nurturing environment. The essence of this definition is children + drugs = risk.”
Children of parents with substance abuse disorders have a higher likelihood of developing substance use problems themselves. Children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs are three times more likely to be verbally, physically or sexually abused and four times more likely than other children to be neglected.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.3 million children live with at least one parent addicted to drugs or alcohol. They exist in survival mode to ensure their own safety.
One video during the training showed an emotional mother being comforted by her son while recounting her addiction. “Parentification” is role reversal where a child acts as parent to their own parent. Children model adult behavior they witness, like the boy rolling joints with his Play-Doh.
When infants cry and no one picks them up or they’re hungry and don’t get fed, they grow up not knowing how to love or trust. “When you’re abandoned by the people tasked with taking care of you, that leads to a lot of relationship problems as an adult,” Court Administrator Carol Bealor said.
“The ultimate goal is to form a DEC alliance to talk about what’s going on in Cass County and what training we need next so we’re not in silos by ourselves, but working together for our children,” Mathews said.
Saucedo said DEC programs operate in 26 states and Canada.