Pubdate: Sun, 31 Dec 2000
Source: Record, The (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Record
Contact:  P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201
Fax: (209) 547-8186
Author: Tim Hearden, Record Searchlight


Program's Record Of Success Convinces Leaders To Step In When State Funds End

Shasta County supervisors reacted with shock as Holly Hetzel showed them 
pictures of children as young as 3 months old who'd tested positive for 
methamphetamine after a raid on their homes by law enforcement.

The jarring images, shown at a recent meeting, prompted the elected 
officials to take the 18-month-old Drug-Endangered Children (DEC) program 
into their own hands after Gov. Gray Davis' veto of a funding bill 
threatened to kill the program at the end of this month.

"We often read about drug busts in the news," said Hetzel, the program's 
director. However, she said, the raids - and the behavior that precipitates 
them - "affect real children" who are badly in need of help.

"The primary goal is to take care of the child," she said. "Part of that is 
to take care of the family."

The Board of Supervisors' decision pumps $38,000 into the program, which 
assigns teams of professionals to work with children harmed by their 
parents' drug use. The funding will keep it running until the next state 
budget is enacted in the summer.

As a result of the program, 83 children have been removed from homes that 
had methamphetamine present, District Attorney McGregor Scott said. 
Forty-two children were tested and 33 of them tested positive for the drug, 
Scott said.

In all, 50 children were receiving services as of early December, the 
district attorney said.

"The DEC program in Shasta County has been one of the most successful 
grants that the district attorney has ever received," Scott said.

Federal grants for the program were distributed by the state Office of 
Criminal Justice Planning to seven of California's most 
methamphetamine-infested counties, including Shasta. In June 1999, 
supervisors hired Hetzel to a 15-month contract that was later extended to 
Dec. 31, 2000 - the last day the program will be funded by the grants.

The DEC program sends a team of law enforcement, social workers and medical 
professionals to examine children. The teams often remove the children from 
their homes and sometimes build a case against the parents for felony child 
endangerment, Hetzel said.

Parents have an opportunity to get their kids back if they kick their drug 
habit, she said.

"One thing that we've found is that removing the children will often 
motivate the adults . . . to seek treatment," Hetzel said.

Law enforcement officials expected the governor to sign a bill this year 
that would have established a state-funded DEC program, Scott said. But 
Davis vetoed the bill, ordering an evaluation of the federal program's 
success before agreeing to spend state money on the program. That 
assessment has since been completed.

The Davis administration has told law enforcement leaders the governor is 
planning a major initiative against methamphetamine in 2001, probably with 
the DEC program as one of the components, Scott said.

"The bill that was vetoed by the governor has already been reintroduced in 
the Legislature," Scott said. "Somehow, we've gotten the governor's 
attention on this."

Meanwhile, the county extended Hetzel's contract. Scott's office will seek 
money from grants, perhaps from the county's Children and Families First 
Commission, which is distributing Proposition 10 cigarette-tax funds to 
early childhood programs. Otherwise, the money will come from the district 
attorney's budget.

The county Department of Social Services will continue supporting the 
program, too, by devoting one of its social workers to it.

"The county has stepped up to provide a lot of financial support for this 
team," Hetzel said. "I was very pleased (with the supervisors' action). It 
was very nice to be able to update them and show them what we do."
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