OKLAHOMA CITY (March 5, 2012) – Legislation approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives today would require an investigation to be conducted when a drug-endangered child is identified by the Department of Human Services.
The legislation is designed to increase awareness of the problem of children exposed to the hazardous lifestyles surrounding drug abuse. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is in the process of restarting a Drug Endangered Child program, which will provide training to child-welfare workers and law enforcement across the state.
“Nationwide, 40 to 80 percent of families involved with child welfare have substance-abuse problems, according to the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy,” said state Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa. “There is no doubt a parent’s drug use can put children in danger, and we want to make sure we protect those kids from becoming another victim in Oklahoma’s child-death rate. This legislation will help identify these children and get them the services they need in a timely, appropriate manner and protect their lives.”
House Bill 2251, by Peterson, would require the Department of Human Services to conduct an investigation whenever a child meets the definition of a “drug endangered child” or is diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. The bill states that the agency “shall conduct an investigation of the allegations and shall not limit the evaluation of the circumstances to an assessment.”
“By requiring an investigation instead of an assessment, we are empowering multi-disciplinary teams to make a quick determination and intervene when necessary to provide the resources and expert assistance required to protect these vulnerable children,” Peterson said.
The legislation defines a “drug-endangered child” as any child at risk of “suffering physical, psychological or sexual harm as a result of the use, possession, distribution, manufacture or cultivation of controlled dangerous substances,” by a person responsible for the welfare of the child.
The legislation was requested by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and the legal definitions came from the National Drug-Endangered Children’s Alliance.
OBN officials said the lack of a clear definition of “drug-endangered child” in Oklahoma law has impeded response efforts.
“We must protect the most vulnerable in our state when it comes to the devastation of drug abuse,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. “This is a collaborative effort to protect Oklahoma's children.”
House Bill 2251 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on an 86-0 vote today. The bill now proceeds to the state Senate.