Don’t Judge Me Until You Have Walked a Mile in My Shoes…
The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) the peak organisation representing issues of national significance for people who use illicit drugs acknowledges the release of the Australian National Council on Drugs’ latest report, Drug Use in the Family Impacts and Implications for Children.
Speaking at the release of the report, AIVL’s Executive Officer, Ms Annie Madden, said that “it is difficult for parents who use illicit drugs to articulate their needs. By its very nature, the illegality of illicit drug use isolates and marginalises a person and stops them from seeking support for fear of rejection, discrimination and judgment. Many parents who use illicit drugs live in constant fear of their child being taken from them”.
AIVL agrees that drug use alone should not be sufficient to trigger child protection mechanisms. Ms Madden said “We need to create environments in which families, who are experiencing difficulties, are able to speak about their drug use in order to seek support, particularly when their needs may be as basic as support with day-to-day living or assistance with parenting skills. Our aim must be to strengthen the family unit rather than seeking to dismantle it.”
As noted in the ANCD Report, “women drug users who are parents typically experience marginalisation and discrimination due to their parenting status”. Many women drug users are good parents and very committed to their children but too often they are left to manage any difficulties they are experiencing on their own. This frequently results in these women becoming highly self-critical of their parenting abilities. Women drug users who are parents need support, understanding and most of all, access to services they can trust, if and when, they experience difficulties.
Recently there has been a great deal of discussion in the media about the need for more interventionist approaches in relation to pregnant women on pharmacotherapy programs such as methadone. This has resulted in governments seeking to strengthen child protection legislation to include pre-natal drug testing and reporting for women considered to be at risk of harming their babies.
“We are very concerned about the potential unintended negative consequences of such legislation. Such pre-natal monitoring systems could easily result in fewer women accessing antenatal health services due to fear of punitive responses. Research overwhelming shows that the outcomes for both mother and baby are greatly improved if women with opioid dependencies are maintained on methadone during their pregnancy.”
“Too often there is a tendency to pit the needs of parents and the rights of children against each other, but this results in the very worst outcome for families. Parents who use illicit drugs love their children just as much as any other parents – we would do well as a community to remember this fact” concluded Ms Madden.