Tuesday, May 31, 2011 was a monumental day in the world of child protection. The fact that Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director and Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, AG Eric Holder, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michelle Leonhart were all present for a one hour event, coming together for drug endangered children is also quite historic. Aside from the President of the United States, these individuals are undoubtedly among the most influential in the world. They came together to speak about children who are living in dangerous drug environments. The numbers are astounding and the lives of one in three children in the United States are affected by drugs. The children test positive for the drugs their parents use, they are abused and their bodies used as barter and trade for drugs.
The event was one of National Awareness about Drug Endangered Children which included the unveiling of the “Promising Practices Document Drug Endangered Children and Their Families”. The day was inspirational and at times, and emotional. Even Office of National Drug Control Policy head, Drug Czar Kerlikowske, becoming choked with tears said, “the problem was never more real than the moment at a Seattle, Washington hospital I held a 72 hour infant going through withdrawals”. There were a number of powerful and moving statements and observations and discussion about the “issue” of drug endangerment. Some may recall a recent visit made by Kerlikowske in April to learn more about drug overdose deaths in Kentucky.
The Federal Interagency Task Force for Drug Endangered Children was convened May 2001 as page 74 of the National Drug Control Strategy outlined the recommendation that something be done about the plight of children. For the next twelve months meetings, conference calls, and research was done to identify the best practices in the nation. Finally, the group determined to describe these practices as “Promising” and to pursue the DEC response as one that is ever-evolving to meet the needs of children. Kentucky based non-profit, the National Drug Endangered Children Training and Advocacy Center (NDEC-TAC.org) was recognized by Deputy Attorney General James Cole for work with the DEC Task Force and our advocacy for children. In the last month, NDEC-TAC received an award from Department of Homeland Security, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center Director Connie Patrick and was invited to provide the second awareness talk for the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum Lecture series. The latter may be found at: http://www.deamuseum.org/education/lecture-series.html
Seeing and working with children discovered living in dangerous drug environments is daunting and emotionally draining. The hollow eyes and unemotional response of some of the children are akin to the faces of the soldiers in the Korean War Memorial—hollow and lifeless. Once you have seen the faces of these children, especially if they ask you to keep them safe, you will never forget it. Your dreams will be filled with the faces of children living in environments that cause harm and drain them of the hope every child should have.
For those of us who have dedicated our lives to speaking on behalf of these children, telling the stories the children cannot tell to people they likely will never meet, May 31st offers hope. It was a symbol that our voices were heard and likewise, the children would have a direct line to those empowered to support the work on their behalf. Of all the work and passionate speeches about the suffering of children, it was one joke made by US Attorney General Holder that would catch the attention of TIME Magazine and take the focus from real children to imaginary ones portrayed on television. The comment was about his enjoyment of the show ‘The Wire’ and his request that there be one more season of the show, if not that, a movie. It was a funny comment that was appropriate in context. However, the writer at Time Magazine missed the point. There are so many real life stories exactly like the ones portrayed on ‘The Wire’. Please, America, turn your attention to the real life drama that affects the lives of children within your reach. Their safety is our responsibility.
Access the Promising Practices for Drug Endangered Children and their Families document: http://www.ondcp.gov/publications/pdf/promising_practices_toolkit.pdf
Read the TIME Magazine article at: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/06/01/attorney-general-holder-demads-a-new-season-of-the-wire/?iid=nfmostpopular
By Holly Dye-
Learn more at: www.ndec-tac.org