It has been estimated that more than two-thirds of Oranga Tamariki cases in Rotorua involve substance abuse, with meth use showing up in an alarming number of homes across the region.
Bay of Plenty regional manager Tasi Malu said, anecdotally, about 70 per cent of cases in Rotorua over the past year involved some sort of substance abuse. Across New Zealand, about 10 people contact Oranga Tamariki every hour with concerns about a child due to addiction, neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and family violence, he said.
This comes off the back of a report released by the child welfare agency in July which revealed the prevalence of meth as a factor in the decision to place children in care and the ongoing impacts on the child.
A random sample of case notes for 160 children out of 807 who entered the care system between March last year and February found meth was mentioned in 29 per cent of the Reports of Concern.
"Methamphetamine has changed the nature of our work," Malu said.
"Our research of newborn babies that came into care either during pregnancy or up to 1 month of age shows that more than a third came from a family background of meth."
But Whānau Ora's North Island commissioning chairwoman Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said while meth was a "scourge", families feared their children would be taken by Oranga Tamariki and placed with people who were not family members.
Raukawa-Tait took weekly calls from grandparents around the country about their adult children bringing up children in homes where drugs, alcohol, and violence "are a daily occurrence".
Community, iwi and Whānau Ora service providers stepped up daily, she said, "but I suspect they are losing the battle where methamphetamine is concerned ... It's a scourge on our society."
While families wanted to help plan and sort care for the children they were "rarely consulted and listened to".
She said families feared the children would be taken by Oranga Tamariki and placed with caregivers who were not family.
"Oranga Tamariki is not trusted, no matter how well-intentioned it may be."
Support and intervention were needed as soon as issues started surfacing, she said.
"These are significant issues that the majority of families, without skilled intervention, are incapable of dealing with themselves."
Waiariki Women's Refuge manager Paula Coker said 60 to 70 per cent of the women who came through the refuge either used, were high or had been forced to have meth.
She said she was unable to comment on how many children were in the households as some of the women did not have the children in their care at the time - either with other family members or the system.
Oranga Tamariki Tauranga East Ngā Parirau social work supervisor Keino Smullen said anecdotally about 70 to 80 per cent of the current workload involves households with abuse or allegations of methamphetamine use.
Between July 2019 and June 30 this year, there were 1364 Reports of Concern, of which 859 were assigned to caseworkers in the Tauranga East area alone.
The number of cases involving meth use in Tauranga West were not available.
Smullen has worked for the agency for 15 years and said the concerning figures on drug use had shifted from being predominantly weed and alcohol.
With the rise in meth use came a rise in violence and sexual abuse against children and severe poverty as a result of the expensive drug, Smullen said.
It created mood swings and erratic or aggressive behaviour in users, medical needs might not be met, and older kids were left to care for their siblings when parents were passed out after a high.
Inconsistency in parenting, a lack of routine and structure, and leaving children to their own devices could mould their behaviour when they got older, she said.
Boys tended to act out, while girls generally internalised their feelings.
Smullen said just because a child was exposed to a household with drug use was not a reason to remove them, and there "was not usually one factor".
Substance abuse, ongoing neglect, family harm, serious physical harm, or sexual abuse were all contributing factors.
While uplifts were not something they did often, when it got to a stage where a child couldn't stay with their parents, "the first thing we do is look for family".
"Historically, we've not always got it right ... the difference is now we get family on board right from the get-go."
"It's not fair to move a kid out just because of something that's occurred to them," Smullen said, and safety plans were put around them.
"Not everyone that uses methamphetamine is a bad parent."
Smullen said there was a gap in the services available to combat the issue, and she wanted to see a rehabilitation facility in Tauranga for mothers to recover with their children.
Tē Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust director Tommy Wilson said roughly 60 to 70 per cent of the 4000 people who sought their services each year had had some involvement with meth - and it was only getting worse.
"Everyone's trying to paint Oranga Tamariki as the bad people ... no one's addressing the elephant in the room, which is methamphetamine."
The trust had a contract arrangement with Oranga Tamariki.
University of Auckland Department of Psychological Medicine associate professor Trecia Wouldes said the physical, mental and social risks to children around meth were determined on a case-by-case basis.
It depended on the child's age, the length of exposure to a substance abuse environment and other factors that affect a child's development, such as poverty, inadequate housing and domestic violence.
Removing a child while the parents tried to get clean was a judgment call, she said.
Wouldes directs the Infant Development, Environment and Lifestyle (IDEAL) longitudinal study investigating the development of children born to mothers who used meth while pregnant.
"Just because someone has become drug-dependent doesn't necessarily make them a bad parent. However, drug use may impair judgment.
"I don't think removal into care is ever an easy option for a child or the parents, but decisions need to be made on whether a child is at risk, not on parental drug use."
She said more needed to be done to identify women with substance abuse problems during pregnancy to give them the support they needed.
Her research showed a number of women who had used meth during pregnancy also had psychiatric disorders and a history of physical and sexual abuse.
Identifying these and treating mental health issues alongside drug use may prevent the need to uplift so many children due to drug use.
The latest findings from the New Zealand Police wastewater drug testing programme covers August to October last year. They revealed the average daily drug use per 1000 people in each policing district.
In the Bay of Plenty, more than 600mg of methamphetamine was used each day per 1000 people.