Several years ago, shock radiated throughout Utah when an infant was found dead after ingesting meth she had found in a plastic bag on the floor of her home. What made this tragic circumstance even more notable and horrific is that weeks earlier her father had forcibly taken her across state lines, hoping to protect her from her mother’s substance abuse. Authorities found the child, placed her back with her mother, and sent the father to jail for assault and burglary. A little over a week later, the baby was dead and the mother was charged with desecration of a dead body for moving her daughter to cover up the mother’s drug abuse. All charges against the father were eventually dropped.
Sadly, this is not the only story of a child becoming the victim of a parent’s drug use. In Tulsa, a young boy grabbed a drink of what he thought was water but which was actually lye used in making meth. He survived, but his esophagus was burned away and the child will never be the same. Other children who have ingested similar chemicals weren’t so fortunate.
One mother, heavily doped up on drugs, accidentally rolled over and smothered her child as they napped on the couch. A six-year-old boy in Tulsa showed law enforcement officers in detail how his daddy made drugs. In meth homes throughout the country, baby bottles share sinks and refrigerators with meth containers, and the drug is often made in the same kitchen where food is prepared. Poison is only inches away from dinner plates and glasses of milk. Law enforcement officers wear protective gear when dismantling these meth labs, but the children who live there on a daily basis are unprotected from the toxic fumes that saturate their bodies, clothing, and toys—if they are lucky to have such things. Often these houses have no food, no toilet paper, and no sheets on the beds. The children are completely neglected, and the houses are filthy. Many of these children show developmental delays, organ injuries from the fumes, heart problems, seizures, and violent behavior.
Chief Deputy C. Philip Byers from the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina writes: “In 2004, over 2,700 children were found in methamphetamine labs seized by law enforcement officials nationwide. Children were present in 34% of the total lab seizures in the United States.”1
Some of those children were injured or killed during the seizures. As shocking as that is, however, experts estimate that only a small percentage of meth labs are ever found.States seem to be losing the battle against methamphetamine addiction. Child welfare, law enforcement, substance abuse, and treatment systems are overloaded. Some estimate that over 8.3 million children in the United States live with a parent who has a substance abuse issue. Nearly 2 million child abuse cases each year are investigated, and a half million of those have enough evidence to act on. Some 200,000 children are removed from their homes each year.2
But what about the cases that aren’t proven? What about the children who fall through the cracks, but are still at risk? To what lengths might a non-custodial parent be compelled to go in order to protect a child from danger?
These were the questions I thought about as I began writing Saving Madeline. I wanted to show one man’s dilemma in balancing his need to protect his daughter with his duty to obey the law, to detail his struggle in an overloaded system where there are no second chances for the innocent victims. Please keep in mind that though the idea for this novel was inspired by the numerous true-life stories I researched, the plot, characters, and resolution in Saving Madeline are completely fictional. No actual experiences or interviews of real-life people were used in the text itself. (Neither does this story in any way reflect the life of the sweet Madeline I dedicated this book to. Though challenged with Muscular Dystrophy, that Madeline has the great fortune to have been born to loving and responsible parents.)
Could such a story actually happen? I believe so.
Backblurb for the book:
As a public defender, Caitlin McLoughlin dreams of someday locking the bad guys in prison instead of defending them. But prosecuting jobs are scarce, and Caitlin’s future seems bleak. When her current client is about to walk away from a brutal crime, she risks her career to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else. Yet what if her choice means sacrificing her career and the means care for her mentally disabled sister?
Then Caitlin meets Parker Hathaway, charged with kidnapping four-year-old Madeline. Just another criminal, another job, Caitlin thinks.
But Parker tells a far different story. Can Caitlin believe him, as her heart urges? Is she willing to put everything on the line to defend her client—a man who claims to be protecting the child he loves? Or is her trust better placed in the handsome deputy district attorney with his undefeated record in court? Caitlin’s pursuit of the truth swiftly thrusts her into a maze of unanswered questions and unexpected heartache.
Meanwhile, time is running out for Madeline. If Caitlin doesn’t find the proof she is looking for soon, there may not be a future for any of them.