Saturday, January 13, 2007

Man on a mission: Sheriff Burgess cares for "meth orphans"

In 2004, the results of methamphetamine production and abuse were evident throughout Cumberland County, Tennessee. The local jail was grossly overcrowed. Even the jail gymasium and library were being used to provide bed space for inmates. The county was spent $300,000 a year on medical costs at the jail, largely because of meth abuse.

Worst of all were the effects on the children of methamphetamine abusers and "cooks." Side-effects of meth use include violence and hallucinations, and parents experiencing those side effects often neglect and/or abuse their children.

Contamination is also a concern. Children are often exposed to poisonous vapors from their parents cooking the illegal drug, due to the use of hazardous chemicals such as brake cleaner. As a result, these children commonly suffer respiratory problems, tremors, difficulty with coordination, an intolerance to human touch and a susceptibility to learning disabilities.

Throughout Tennessee, hundreds of children have been taken from squalid homes and meth-addicted parents, and placed in foster care. But in 2004, the county lacked social services facilities and could only house the children in jail until foster parents could be found.

Sheriff Butch Burgess has responded by making rescuing "meth orphans" his personal crusade. He and his wife have cared for 33 foster children, most of whom have come from homes of methamphetamine users.

"We're going to defend the kids. I don't want to let any child fall through the cracks. We're putting all our eggs in their basket," Burgess stated emphatically.

Under his leadership, Cumberland County established a task force to protect "drug endangered children."

In 2005, Burgess raised $19,000 for the downpayment on a 2,000-square-foot stucco house. He and other concerned community members worked together to renovate it and transform it into a House of Hope, an intake facility for children who have been removed from their parents.

The House of Hope has free meals, toys, beds and volunteers on call. Local doctors provide free medical services. The goal is one-stop-shopping and comprehensive care. Children are placed in foster homes as quickly as possible.

Burgess believes that if children of meth-addicts can be placed in normal loving environments, many will recover from their traumatic experiences and will be less likely to become addicts, themselves.

Simply arresting adults, he added, does little to end the addiction cycle. "It's just like trying to shovel quicksand out of a hole. The more you shovel out, the faster it's coming in."

For more information, please visit:

Glanton, Dahleen. On a mission, sheriff opens home to children of meth. Chicago Tribune, Jan. 10, 2007, News pg. 7.
Potter, Mark. Meth labs: A toxic threat to rural America. NBC News, March 10, 2004.
Potter, Mark. Town comes together to open House of Hope: Community pitches in to help children orphaned by meth problem. NBC News, Aug. 10, 2005.

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Hi there
I've created an online support/discussion group for survivors of the child welfare system. I've posted the links on my blog if anyone is interested.
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