Pubdate: Tue, 10 Apr 2018
Source: Blade, The (Toledo, OH)
Copyright: 2018 The Blade
Author: Alexandra Mester


Books, CDs, tennis balls, and a box of candy are just some of the
places in which drugs, drug paraphernalia, and sexually-explicit
photographs are hidden in this scene.

A permanent marker, a hair brush, a tennis ball, a decorative wooden
plaque bearing the word "faith." All are seemingly innocuous items in
a teenage girl's bedroom.

But each was hiding a secret during the "Hidden in Plain Sight"
training offered by Lucas County Children Services and the Drug Abuse
Response Team of the Lucas County Sheriff's Office. Dozens of
attendees, most of them employees with children services, rifled
through the simulated bedroom Tuesday to search for more than 50
hidden items indicative of risky behavior like drug use and sexual

"We have to get the message out there. The stereotype has to change,
and people have to start talking. They have to wake up. They have to
get involved," said Tamme Smith, a forensic counselor with the DART
team. "Just standing and lecturing doesn't do it anymore. People need
to be able to touch and feel and experience it to be able to grasp
what's happening."

Robin Reese, executive director of children services, said an ongoing
drug epidemic has gripped the area in recent years. Substance use is
up among adults and children, and the department is seeing some
children as young as sixth and seventh grades using various substances.

"This opiate epidemic is unlike anything we've seen," she said.

While substance abuse was the primary focus, the simulation included
sexually explicit material, names and phone numbers of unknown
individuals, a pawn shop receipt, laxatives that could indicate an
eating disorder, and other items.

"Honestly, it is rare that we go in a home and find one thing," Mrs.
Reese said. "If they're using drugs, sometimes they're also involved
in sex trafficking. Sometimes it's domestic violence."

Mrs. Smith said items can be hidden almost anywhere. For instance, the
permanent marker kept with a bunch of other writing utensils was
actually drug paraphernalia.

"The tip of the magic marker actually writes, but the back end of it
where the ink would be pulls out, and it's a one-hitter pipe," she

A slit cut into the tennis ball allowed small items to be concealed
inside, while the bristles of the hair brush could be removed and
replaced to hide something inside the hollow plastic head. The plaque
had a hollowed-out back.

"Any place a child is going to be able to hide things, they're going
to hide it," Mrs. Smith said.

Tiffany LaPlante, a new case worker with children services, said what
at first may look normal can easily be something else entirely. She
knew a lipstick tube was something troubling, but wasn't sure why
until others showed her it was also a pipe.

"If we're just looking at the surface for these kids, then we're not
recognizing all those signs and we really can't effectively help
them," she said. "Pay attention to your kids. Take the time to focus
on what's really going on with them. If there are behaviors that are
concerning you, I would dig deeper."

Ms. LaPlante noted that confronting children angrily or aggressively
doesn't work. Risky behavior is often not the root issue but a symptom
of a larger problem.

"All the things we saw in that room, there's underlying issues," she
said. "Especially with a lot of our kids in the system, they have a
lot of traumatic experiences. A lot of the stuff is learned behaviors,
so we want to address those rather than just the surface."

Mrs. Smith said it's important that parents are actively involved in
their children's lives, asking specific questions, having real
conversations, and setting firm boundaries with appropriate
consequences and follow through. Extensive, detailed, and invasive
searches of every item in a child's bedroom shouldn't be necessary in
most cases.

"If it has gotten to this point where you are literally needing to go
through everything to this level, then you've missed the entire mark,"
she said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt