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Drug use and parenting don’t mix

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  1. honourableone
    Brandon Muir’s tragic death will not be the last of its kind

    We can put a name to the grainy face of the toddler in the news last week because of the way he died. But in Scotland today there are tens of thousands of children like Brandon Muir living chaotic, violent and perilous lives because of their parents’ drug and alcohol addiction.
    Brandon was killed by Robert Cunningham, the boyfriend who had moved in with mother Heather Boyd just 18 days before the boy’s death. The couple were heroin addicts. Glasgow high court heard Cunningham hit the two-year-old so hard in the abdomen, his intestine ruptured. But the child did not die until the next morning, and in that time Boyd took him to a party where he was left in a toilet, ignored by the drunk and drug-using adults.
    The postmortem found Brandon had 40 separate injuries, including four broken ribs. In an interview last week, Boyd insisted she was a good mother and blamed social workers for not warning her of Cunningham’s violent past.
    The estimate that 50,000 children in Scotland under the age of 16 have one or both parents with drug problems expresses the scale of the problem. Brandon Muir is not the first fatality. Caleb Ness, Derek Doran and Danielle Reid all died because of the drug problems of their parents and their parents’ partners.



    Fortunately, child deaths are rare. It is the nature of the beast, however, that there will be many lucky escapes: kids who, in surviving, elude the statistics and keep us ignorant of the long-term damage that parental drug addiction causes to those who have to grow up despite their parents’ lack of care.
    I have spoken to many of these families in the course of my work. In interviewing parents and children living with addiction, Joy Barlow and I heard too many tales of terrible danger narrowly avoided: the two-year-old who ate her parents’ heroin; the toddler left alone to play who nearly burnt himself to death while his mother went in search of drugs. None of these incidents resulted in social work intervention, and few of the incidents parents described again and again had ever been known about by any agency. Yet they happen with scary frequency.
    Ask any problem drug user and they will tell you how drugs become the only thing of any real importance in their lives. Their attention becomes riveted on getting and using drugs at the cost of their family relationships, their health, their looks and, too often, the safety and well-being of their children. One, now drug-free, woman said: “You only care about yourself. If you’ve got anything left, they get it, but you would take it off them to give it to you.”
    Households where drugs are the main priority are necessarily chaotic, structured not around the child’s need for routines of meals, school or bedtimes but around the funding, buying and using of drugs, usually more than once a day.
    “I used to take my kids with me to score and we’d stand in the rain for three hours waiting on somebody coming back with drugs,” said one mother. “It didn’t matter that it was 11 o’clock at night and they were soaking and they were hungry and they were tired.” Children dragged along in the wake of their parent’s habit learn not to expect very much at all: food, shelter and clothing are uncertain, and so is their safety.
    For years the mantra that “parental drug addiction doesn’t necessarily mean an inability to parent” had some currency among practitioners working with the adults in such families. But, year after year, the Scottish children’s reporter charts the upward trajectory of child protection registrations for neglect under the category of lack of parental care, mostly associated with substance misuse. The exposure of children to risk as a consequence of their parents’ drug use is not rare or intermittent; it may be happening on a daily basis.
    Brandon was not on the child protection register. Dundee social services seem to have known about him, and neighbours had alerted them, as had Brandon’s grandmother, to try to get him removed as they felt he was not safe. Rather than get into the possible failings of social work to protect a vulnerable toddler, let us consider the wider point of whether children can ever be safe where their main parent carer has a serious drug problem.
    If risk is indeed an integral part of living with parental addiction, and if we do indeed have some 50,000 children with parents with drug problems, how likely is it that any agency or even collection of agencies could aspire even to watchfulness of this level of need and risk? The numbers are simply too great, and where drugs are concerned situations can worsen significantly in no time at all.
    Brandon’s mother was in a relationship with Cunningham for only a few weeks; in that time he inflicted many injuries on Brandon, most of which went unremarked, even by health professionals, because he seemed otherwise cheery and well (the same sort of “assessment” was made by the paediatrician in the Baby P case).
    If social work had emergent concerns about safety, the cogs turned too slowly to save Brandon. And this really is the problem. Social work is geared up to respond to “incidents”: cases where the danger is truly recognisable — the toddler wandering the streets alone at night, the child in hospital with the severe burn.
    Brandon slipped under the radar. Perhaps this was because his circumstances looked unremarkable given caseloads stuffed with other families in similar situations. Across Scotland, there will be thousands of such cases, most of which will also slip under the radar. There will be another child death and another round of hand-wringing and heartfelt promises that lessons will be learned.
    To help these children, we have to be clear that child welfare is incompatible with parental drug use. Parents have a choice to make between their habit and the retention of their children. Society has an obligation to offer support to such parents, but this should be clearly time limited and backed by legal sanctions.
    The Clinton administration in the USA passed the Adoption and Safe Families Act in an attempt to end the damage caused to children who seesaw in and out of institutional care. The unambiguous message it gives parents and the services they engage with is that change needs to happen, otherwise children will not be returned to the family home. Our government should be looking at means to bring home the message to parents that drugs and child welfare are just too dangerous a mix.
    We have to make the choice for children not to have to grow up in families like Brandon’s.
    Professor Marina Barnard is based at Glasgow University’s centre for drug misuse research and is the author of Drug Addiction and Families, published by Jessica Kingsley, £19.99



    From the Sunday Times, Written by Marina Barnard, March 8th 2009
    Original Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article5863852.ece

Comments

  1. waytoofertile
    While this story is undeniable tragic and heartbreaking, not all parents that use drugs neglect their children. What about the millions of adults such as swim who are in chronic pain from spine injuries and take pain meds daily? Because you become tolerant of the med, it isn't as if you are slipping in and out of conciousness, and I daresay that swim's children would be much worse off is swim was unable to bathe them or clean the house, or do laundry because she couldn't move from the excruciating pain.

    As for "parents" that would take thier kids out in the rain for 3 hours at 11 at night to score some H, they have no business bieng parents. I think that the writer of this piece wrote it to be as inflamatory as possible for attention. Responsible users never give any indication they are using at all, let alone leaving H around for their kids to eat off the floor. How many H user's do you know that have so much money and H they can just randomly toss it around, gimme a break.

    That said if you have children, obviously you shouldn't do illegal drugs or ones that make you incoherent when you are around or responsible for their care.
  2. enquirewithin
    Parents NOT on drugs also abuse and kill children. You can't blame alcohol and drugs. It's the people, not that this was not a appalling case.

    Governments are worse. Some countries, Israel, for example, murders children on a large scale with regularity and is backed by the EU and US in doing so. Israeli soldiers have been seen shooting children in cold blood. They deliberately bomb schools. "UN" sanctions against Iraq, which strengthened Saddam's grip on he country, were estimated by UNICEF to have killed half a million children.
  3. honourableone
    More drug users' babies in care

    The number of babies being referred for temporary foster care in Edinburgh because of parental drug misuse has doubled in the last year. Edinburgh City Council said the statistics showed that the capital was in "desperate need" of more carers.
    An appeal has been launched to encourage more people to help care for vulnerable babies.
    The plea was made at the launch of a training DVD to help people looking after vulnerable babies.
    Some 99 babies under six months old were referred for foster placement in 2008, double the number in the previous year.
    Fifty of those babies were referred before they were born and two thirds of all the babies were suffering from the effects of alcohol or drug addiction as a result of the mother's addiction problems.

    [​IMG]
    The number of babies being referred for temporary foster care has doubled

    Growing demand
    Those babies often suffer from a range of physical, cognitive and emotional problems and need extra care.
    Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, Edinburgh City Council's leader for children and young people, said: "The city's foster carers are dedicated people but the problem we have now is that there aren't enough carers to meet the growing demand.
    "We want the people of Edinburgh to know that a wide range of people can be foster carers.
    "Whether you are in your 20s or your 50s, in a couple or single, you can apply as long as you're committed and are willing to help a child who has had a tough start in life."
    Ms MacLaren said the increasing number of cases meant social workers were stretched and services could not be sustained or improved without adequate investment.
    "It's a vicious cycle. If we don't have the resources to tackle the problem at its source then we will see more vulnerable babies," she added.
    "I'll be approaching the Scottish Government to ask them to revisit the issue and to take action because if things don't change, the lives of vulnerable children will get even harder."

    By BBC News, 26th March 2009
    Original Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/7965526.stm
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