If the children of alcoholics often find themselves in a "thunderstorm" of family problems, then the drug methamphetamine brings a "tornado" by comparison, says one of the researchers. The professionals and caregivers who pick up the pieces often lack the knowledge or resources to deal with the children's trauma and its consequences, the study found.
"These kids are at a very high risk for mental health and substance-abuse disorders, and yet we have very little descriptive information about their psychological development and well-being," said Wendy Haight, the Illinois social work professor who is leading the research.
Despite the spread of methamphetamine use since the late 1980s, and in Illinois for at least a decade, this study may be the first to look at the culture and family dynamics it creates, especially in rural areas, and the effect of that on the children of users, Haight said. "Even though our study is rooted in a particular community, it has wider implications in terms of how we approach this problem, looking at the unique rural context," she said.
Everyone dealing with the problem, from social workers to teachers to police, "is grasping at straws," according to Linda Kingery, a social work graduate student and one of the project researchers, as well as a child-welfare worker in the counties studied. Everyone is looking for answers, she said, "and that's why this research is so relevant."
The study found situations of profound neglect and abuse, physical danger resulting from in-house manufacture of the drug, and parents teaching their children criminal behavior and a paranoid distrust of authority.