It's common for people who have been in serious wrecks to describe a prolonged moment of painful clarity when they knew for certain a crash was inevitable.
So it was, in a way, for the social workers who had been involved in the saga of the family that gave rise to Kayden Branham Daniels, the toddler who died last year after swallowing drain cleaner, a key ingredient of home-cooked methamphetamine, that was sitting in a coffee cup on a table.
All signs pointed to an impending disaster. Kayden's mother, Alisha, was 12 when he was conceived and 14 when he died. Melissa Branham, her mother, had custody of Alisha, but social workers were concerned she was abusing drugs. Alisha herself had tested positive for marijuana.
The utilities had been cut off at Melissa Branham's home. So, Alisha, Kayden and Kayden's father had moved to a trailer rented by Alisha's father, Larry Branham, where methamphetamine was being produced.
Larry Branham has acknowledged once being addicted to pain medication, but he says that with treatment, he no longer has a problem. His ex-wife, Melissa, told social workers shortly before Kayden died that she suspected Larry Branham was involved with drugs.
Kayden's life was in danger from the moment he was conceived.
In Kentucky, we know that almost two-thirds of the substantiated cases of abuse and neglect of children involve caretakers with substance abuse problems. But the state has no effective way to address the substance abuse.
If we had chosen to look, we could have watched this disaster coming down the road, even if we might not have precisely predicted the moment of impact or known exactly what form the wreck would take.
"We have no way to offer them treatment," Patricia Wilson, the head of the state's child protection unit, told a legislative committee last week.
She was talking about the tens of thousands of adults in Kentucky in the social welfare system who have known substance abuse problems and are responsible for children.
Like the adults around Kayden.
Although social workers asked his grandmother, Melissa Branham, to take voluntary drug tests, she said she couldn't afford them. Eventually, the state offered to pay for the screenings, but she either didn't show up or provided samples that appeared to have been altered. It's not at all clear she would have had access to effective drug abuse treatment if she had tested positive.
As the Herald-Leader's Beth Musgrave and Bill Estep reported last Sunday, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has two substance abuse programs — which operate in only 11 of Kentucky's 120 counties — for treating parents accused of abuse and neglect. There's also very little money to help parents pay for court-ordered drug screening.
The situation has gotten worse through the recent onslaught of economic stress and budget cuts. The cabinet will face an uphill battle reversing that trend. Money can't solve every problem, but it could go a long way toward improving the chances for thousands of children like Kayden in Kentucky.
As long as Kentucky pinches its pennies on drug screening and treatment, children like Kayden will live in danger.
Their deaths may not be as horrific as the scalding throat and lungs that killed him, but there's no question their innocent lives are on a collision course.