In 2009, the 75th Session of the Nevada Legislature officially established the Office of Statewide Coordinator for Children Who Are Endangered by Drug Exposure within the Office of the Attorney General, see NRS 228.700-720.
The DEC Program
The Drug Endangered Children (DEC) Program is a multi-agency approach to assist and protect drug-endangered children whose lives are jeopardized by their families or care-givers engaged in the illegal manufacturing, sale, possession and use of drugs in the home.
NRS Chapter 228 defines the target population for the DEC Program by establishing that “Child who is endangered by drug exposure” means:
- A child who is born affected by prenatal illegal substance abuse or who has withdrawal symptoms resulting from such abuse, or has experienced other complications at birth as a result of such abuse as determined by a physician;
- A child who illegally has a controlled substance in his body as a direct and foreseeable result of the act or omission of the parent, guardian or other person who exercises control or supervision of the child; or
- A child who is allowed, in violation of NRS 453.3325, to be present in any conveyance or upon any premises wherein a controlled substance is unlawfully possessed, used, sold, exchanged, bartered, supplied, prescribed, dispensed, given away, administered, manufactured or compounded in violation of any of the provisions of NRS 453.011 to 453.552, inclusive.
Drug Endangered Children (DEC) are children who suffer physical or psychological abuse as a result of illegal drug use, manufacturing, cultivation or distribution. These harms can include: physical abuse; emotional abuse; sexual abuse; and neglect, including failure to nurture, supervise, or provide meals, sanitary and safe living conditions, schooling and medical care.
The primary challenge with illegal substance abuse and DEC is in coordinating the social and political systems charged with preventing, intervening, and treating these cases. The number, complexity, and difficult behavior-change challenges of these cases burden practitioners and the community. These challenges include lack of:
◾A comprehensive and unifying strategy
◾Appropriate and accessible treatment intervention
◾Prevention programs (particularly targeting high risk populations)
◾Collaborative and coordinated efforts between disciplines that have different roles, responsibilities and perspectives
The DEC solution requires a multi-faceted strategy that includes prevention, law enforcement, courts, probation, social services, treatment, mental health, medical, child welfare, education, public health, federal agencies, non-profit organizations, and the community. This strategy focuses on the formation of community-based partnerships that encourage agency personnel from across these disciplines to coordinate their mutual interests, resources and responsibilities to remove children from homes where drugs are produced and to safeguard the children from further abuse and neglect. The DEC program is a model by which many agencies can learn how to best address the legal, medical, and social issues associated with children present at methamphetamine laboratories and other hazardous drug production and abuse environments.
A key component of the DEC program is a response team that is on call 24 hours a day. The DEC Response Team--which includes social workers, trained fire department personnel (members of the hazardous materials unit, in particular), public health nurses, and law enforcement personnel--is called upon frequently to treat and care for children found at laboratory sites and assist with the criminal investigation. The purpose of the DEC Response Team is to intervene on behalf of these children, to provide a comprehensive response, to provide ongoing medical treatment and observation of these children, and to track the status and progress of these children in order to place them in a safe and healthy environment. The entire DEC Response Team receives specialized training regarding methamphetamine production and the circumstances specific to drug endangered children, and all personnel have experience or receive training in criminal investigations related to evidence collection in child endangerment cases.
The Prosecutor's Role
Prosecutors are responsible for filing and supporting charges of child endangerment, and the short- and long-term interests of the child must be an important consideration in the criminal drug prosecution. By reviewing all the evidence gathered, charging the drug violations as appropriate, and filing child endangerment charges against the appropriate parties, the prosecutor strengthens the multi-disciplinary team’s efforts to achieve favorable child protection outcomes. Communication between CPS workers, probation officers, health care personnel, law enforcement officers and attorneys should continue throughout the period of prosecution. Communication between the criminal and family law courts is crucial to avoid creating conflicts or jeopardizing either case outcome. Based on the nature of the crime and the jurisdiction in which it occurred, prosecution may take place in local, state or federal courts. At the sentencing phase, the court establishes sanctions and activities considered necessary for rehabilitation. Even if charges of child endangerment are dismissed, the prosecutor can ask that the court consider conditions related to the child endangerment charge at sentencing.
In cases in which on parent or caregiver is not charged with endangerment but lesser charges are filed, the prosecutor can play an important role in safeguarding the child’s welfare by influencing the terms of probation. These terms often include drug treatment, parenting classes, and other rehabilitative measures such as parent-child counseling to help the parent change his or her lifestyle and focus on the child’s welfare. Compliance with all terms of family reunification care plans or other family court orders also should be included in probation terms.