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Case series: mental health needs and perspectives of rural children reared by parents who abuse methamphetamine.

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  • 1School of Social Work, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.



This case-based, mixed-methods study was undertaken to understand the perspectives and mental health needs of rural children exposed to parental methamphetamine abuse.


Participants were 23 children involved with a state child protective agency because of parental methamphetamine abuse. A semistructured interview provided information on children's perspectives of their families. Information on children's mental health needs was obtained from the Child Behavior Checklist and Trauma Symptom Checklist. Case records and caseworker reports provided information on children's family experiences.


Children described emotional pain; few social resources for coping with emotions, problem solving, or talking about their experiences; and avoidant or passive coping skills. Sixty-five percent of children evidenced significant dissociative or posttraumatic symptoms on standardized assessments; 57% had other significant emotional and behavioral problems. Challenges to understanding children's perspectives included children's perceptions that talking about methamphetamine abuse was taboo and underreporting of significant symptoms on the Trauma Symptom Checklist.


The high rate of mental health problems suggests the need for nontraditional strategies for services delivery in rural areas that are targeted toward these vulnerable children. Early identification and treatment of mental health problems should be a priority. Clinicians should be alert to the complexities in assessing children's mental health needs.

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