Meth Kids

Research on children living in homes used as methamphetamine labs confirms police concerns over the risks. Ellen Brook reports.

The worrying trend of young children living in meth labs and being exposed to toxic chemicals has been highlighted in a research project with support from the Police National Clan Lab Response team in Auckland.

Auckland lawyer Chloe Barker, who analysed Police and ESR (Environmental Science and Research) data related to children and clandestine (clan) labs as part of a master’s degree thesis last year, has raised the red flag on the risks for young children. Her conclusions not only back up anecdotal evidence from police officers, but go on to say that existing child abuse laws are inadequate for prosecuting offenders.

Ms Barker’s research, based on Police data from 2006 to 2010, showed that dozens of children, with an average age of six years, were exposed to clan lab activity each year. On average, children were living or present in 25 per cent of New Zealand meth labs, rising to 34 per cent in 2010.

Latest figures show that of the 94 clan labs located in 2012, children were in 27 of them; 45 children were identified and 25 were present at the time police found the labs.

Other findings included:

  1. About a quarter of the labs where children were present were either “A” or “B” grade, ie, “up and bubbling” or ready to use.
  2. Weapons were found in about 36 per cent of the labs in which children were present.
  3. There was a higher proportion of gang affiliation for labs in which children were present than in total meth labs (51% compared with 43%).
  4. Fires and explosions occurred in 16 labs between 2006 and 2010, two of which had children present.
  5. The percentage of labs in which children were living or present and in which one or more referrals were made to Child, Youth and Family increased from about 5 per cent in 2006 to 93 per cent in 2010.

A more detailed audit of police files from 2008-2009 gave an even more disturbing picture of the dangers children were exposed to.

  1. In 21 per cent of labs there was evidence that children were present during the manufacturing process.
  2. In 45 of 53 labs reviewed there was evidence of chemicals within reach of children.
  3. In 36 of 53 labs, chemicals were stored in food or drink containers. In one case, a child’s school drink bottle, complete with a name and school room number, was found to contain highly acidic chemicals.

Source: March 2013 

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