By Brian Heap
Factfinder 12 Investigator
9:31 PM CST, November 19, 2012
They are the unintended victims of drug abuse. Every year, hundreds of Kansas children are removed from homes because their parents are making, selling, or using illegal drugs.
The experts say the children are born into a life that leads straight to prison. That is, unless the community decides to do something.
Delilah Reyes knows that life. She comes from a line of addicts and became one herself. She had five of her eight children taken away because crack and heroin ruled her life. "Sometimes people don't understand. They're like you've lost your kids. Is that not bad enough? You're homeless. Is that not bad enough? And it's strange because it just wasn't," said Reyes.
Drugs are a primary or contributing factor in most cases where a child is removed from a home, according to Lori Moriarty. The former drug task force officer is the now one of the country's leading experts on the subject of drug endangered children.
She calls the problem a "generational cycle" in which children grow up in that abusive and neglectful environment and go on to parent in the same way. "Fifty nine percent of children who are abused or neglected end up in the criminal justice system. Substance abuse is a key part of abuse and neglect," says Moriarty.
Moriarty has committed her life to the cause. From the two boys she's adopted at home, to the work she does teaching officers and social workers how to identify these kids.
A team of child advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement officers hold regular meetings in Sedgwick County to exchange information and come up with solutions.
The problem is getting worse. "It's very very hard to do this job knowing these kids are out there," says Assistant District Attorney Tricia Knoll. "We don't do this because it's a job. We do it because we really care."
The solution starts in the community and it starts with neighbors and relatives identifying these children and intervening. "They don't want to report somebody and have it be wrong. So they just do nothing. And that's the wrong approach. We're losing kids," says Asst. District Attorney Sandra Charbonneau.
As for Delilah Reyes, she's been clean almost four years. She has custody of her three youngest children and is working to rebuild relationships with the others.
Her kids have not become statistics and she wants other drug endangered children to know they don't have to either. "If we let them know, you have a choice," she says. "Then maybe they can make the right choice and become better people."
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