The suggestion made by a senior Queensland Health manager to the Queensland Child Protection Inquiry (The Courier Mail, 27 August 2012) of utilising what they are calling a “parentectomy: to forcefully remove newborns from drug using parents is nothing short of shocking says both the national & Qld-based organisations representing people who use/have used illicit drugs. The Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) and QuIVAA says that adopting a surgically imbued term of precision and efficiency such as “parentectomy” to describe the emotional and heart-wrenching outcomes resulting from the forced removal of children is of the gravest concern.
“The use of this terminology is designed to gloss over what is really being proposed here. A seemingly innocuous term, aimed at convincing the public that what is being suggested is somehow “medically efficient” and “in the best interests of all involved”. It proposes an already tried and failed ‘cruel to be kind’ type approach to social welfare which was implemented prior to the 1950s but it has no place in Australia in 2012. Have we learnt nothing from the cruel and inhumane practices of the past that saw the systemic removal of indigenous and children of single parents from their families and communities? Child removal is not the clear or incisive act that the term “parentectomy” suggests – the wounds of forced child removal never heal and the damage for both parents and children can be permanent” stated Annie Madden, AIVL Executive Officer.
AIVL and QuIVAA reject the way that certain groups have been targeted in the article as “bad mothers” or “bad parents” who apparently have “no hope of being responsible parents”. These groups include drug users, alcohol users and very young or teenage parents. Are we really saying as a society that we support the forced removal of children from some of the
most marginalised and vulnerable families in our community? Our own history tells us the legacy of these types of policies is serious, reaches into generations, and creates hereditary trauma that will not be easy to undo.
“We are punishing the very people who need the protection and support of the system the most. Poor parenting is not the exclusive domain of people who are marginalised or experiencing difficulties in life. So-called “good” and “bad” parents come from all walks of life, economic backgrounds and educational and employment experiences. If people are struggling as parents or as families we should provide them with relevant support and access to services, not punish them in the most unimaginably cruel way” Ms Madden claimed.
Instead of talking about removing the children of drug users, we should be working closely with families to recognise potential problems and taking action to address inequalities and increase access to appropriate support. Such support might include affordable housing, increased early access to parenting skills programs and short term crises support facilities, carefully structured investment in job opportunities, affordable further education, peer support groups and for some, client-focussed pharmacotherapy programs. Additionally, and most
importantly, AIVL & QuIVAA specifically insist that drug users should never feel threatened with having their children removed if they seek support or assistance. Removing children must remain a last ditch option for the immediate protection of the child.
So what about children of drug using parents? What do they think? Lisa, a researcher who conducted a study with the (now adult) children of drug using parents told AIVL that: “Not one of the people I spoke with would have had it any other way. They loved their parents, felt they were well cared for, physically and emotionally, and believed that any hardships they did endure were caused from outside the family”.
“The real danger of these policies is that they simply decrease the chance of people coming forward if they do require assistance. If there is a risk we should be focused on in this situation, it is not the fallacy that every child of every drug using parent is at risk but rather, the very real risk that parents who are struggling and need support will be pushed even further underground” Ms Madden concluded.