In this section you will find lots of information about legal requirements and what agencies, like Social Service, would like you to do to help you to support your child and look after them with regards to the legal requirements. So, it is really important to read the content of this section carefully. You will also find this information useful if you are a parent who worries about the effects of your own or your partner’s drug use with regards to an impact it might have on your family members. This section will help you to improve things for your children. All of the issues mentioned below relate to drug use of an adult, but many of them also apply to people who misuse alcohol.
WHAT WILL ‘SOCIAL SERVICES’ DO?
This is the BIG question that concerns many drug users with children. We know that some people avoid services that could offer help, because they are worried that their children will be ‘taken into care’ or the Social Workers will become very involved with their family life.
When professionals are assessing risk to children, the most important factor they consider is not the drug use itself, but the quality of parenting and whether the children are being brought up in a safe and protected environment.
Laws and legislation across the UK make it clear that children should not be taken into care unless it is essential for their safety. All of the legislation and guidance relating to child care places a duty on the local authority to keep children with their families unless there are serious concerns for the child’s safety.
The law also says that drug using parents should be helped and supported to care for their children. This applies in the same way as with any other personal difficulties that parents may have, whether or not they use drugs.
Agencies that support people who use drugs have to access the family situation and make sure that any children are being cared for adequately. They can discuss the issues with you and support you in making any positive changes that are necessary.
If they have serious concerns, they must pass these on to the specialist teams who deal with child protection matters so that the safety of the children can be properly assessed.
If this happens, there should be a full assessment of the family situation and, if necessary, a period of monitoring to see if the situation improves. The aim is to see that the children are safe and no longer at risk, so that the family can stay together.
Social Care (and there are different names for children’s services depending where you live) will focus on the needs of the children and whether they are being met. They may hold a multi-agency meeting and work with you in what they call a ‘Child in Need’ way.
This means that they will support you in many ways: ensuring that there is a co-ordinated approach from the agencies helping you, in accessing more suitable accommodation if necessary, arranging traditional support for your children, and providing other local services dependent upon where you live.
If they have higher level of concern they may decide that a Child Protection Conference is required. This is a meeting where all the workers who know the family can share information, so that risks to the children can be clearly and honestly discussed with the parents and a plan of support agreed. Children made subject to Child Protection plans have a higher degree of visiting and monitoring.
It should be noted that children cannot be removed against parent’s wishes without using ‘Police powers’ or a Court Order. These steps are seen as a last resort and Social Care should only do this if other options have not worked or are not deemed ‘good enough’ for the children.
Very rarely, an emergency situation occurs where a child needs to be removed immediately. This would only happen in extreme circumstances, such as where a child has been deliberately injured by a parent, a young child has been left alone unsupervised, or a child was with an adult who was incapable of looking after them because of things like mental health issues or intoxication.
Even then, where possible, the child would be placed with relations of friends, as long as this was considered safe for the child. This is known as ‘kinship care’, and may be used while parents bring about changes.
Many parents who use drugs are concerned about their child’s future. They may have feelings of guilt or a sense of inadequacy as parents. Although it can sometimes be painful to think about the way you care for your children, most parents recognise when things are not ideal, and want to improve things for their family.
Most parents feel guilty at one time or another about various things they have done or have not done for their children. But feeling guilty does not make anything better for them.
Things that are in the past are over, and all that there may be left to do is apologise or explain. Making changes to things now is the best way to handle this things – and even if you can make only a few changes that may help your children a great deal now, and in the future.
Parenting Assessment Process
Assessing the effects of a parent’s drug use on a child is a complex process and there are many things that workers will consider when making such an assessment.
These four following areas will be taken into consideration:
Your drug/alcohol use;
Safety in your home;
It is important for you to consider what you can do to ensure that your child’s needs are met, and that they are happy and safe. You also need to think about why professionals may be concerned.
I. YOUR DRUG USE AND CHILD PROTECTION
Taking drugs is an adult activity and needs to be kept away from children.
If children see adults taking drugs, and hear the reasons that are often given to them such as “If I don’t have some I will be ill”, then they can start to see drugs as something that can make you feel better, and just a normal part of life.
As your children become older and aware of your drug use, you need to talk to them about it in a way that helps them understand why you are using.
Some people who use drugs such as heroin or cocaine have a relaxed attitude towards cannabis and other drugs that they consider comparatively less harmful. As their children grow older it can be that they start to use these drugs with their children – which is unacceptable as not only it is encouraging their use of drugs, but it also undermines your role as the responsible adult.
Children need to be protected from the financial pressures that drug use can cause.
Exposing your children to any illegal activities you are involved in, such as shop lifting or dealing to raise money to help pay for drugs, can be damaging and often causes children anxiety and worry about the consequences.
Raising money to obtain drugs can mean long periods away from home (as can scoring), with children left unattended, and teenagers, and even younger children, left in parenting roles with age inappropriate responsibilities.
Some drug users fund their drug use by sex working. This too needs to be kept away from the children as it will be placing them at risk if strangers are visiting the family home, and can shape their attitude towards sex and relationships.
Children need stability, and this can be difficult to achieve if their parents are mainly focussed on illicit drugs use and/or alcohol.
Professional involved in your care will become concerned if your drug use is uncontrolled. Getting support from a drug treatment service can help you get stable and substitute prescribing, if you are using heroin, can help manage dependency.
Concerns will be raised if you are in and out of methadone or other substitute prescribing treatment, if you are taking a mixture of drugs and alcohol, if you have insecure housing, and if you are unable to keep to a regular and reasonable routine – which is particularly important if you are a parent.
If your family members have additional problems, such as mental health issues or domestic violence, these can add to the unpredictability and disorganisation of the family.
Try to get your substance use (and therefore your life) more stable. This can often mean seeking help from a treatment agency or your GP, and ensure that you are getting support from agencies that can help you with any other problems.
Parents who are planning to take drugs or drink alcohol also need to plan what happens to their children.
Younger children need to be looked after at all times – and older children need to be looked after at different levels at different stages of their development. Teenagers in particular can be very vulnerable as they are more likely to be getting into substance use themselves during adolescence.
Sometimes people leave their children with someone who seems responsible, but whom they have actually only known a short while. This is risky and it is important to be able to completely trust the person who is looking after your children, and to know them very well.
Some people can become aggressive or violent when using drugs or alcohol, and this can cause harm to children, even if they are not physically hurt. Witnessing parents fighting can be very distressing for children and affect them in the long term.
Injecting drugs can be particularly hazardous, and has many risks. Using drugs, particularly by injecting, brings many potential health problems which include contracting blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
Parents need to understand how much viruses get passed on, so that they can make sure that their children are not at risk. Information can be obtained from your local drug treatment agency, Needle Exchange, GP, or on the internet.
If parents don’t understand the dangers, then they may not take appropriate protective measures such us ensuring used needles are safely stored away, any blood is properly cleaned up, and that things are not shared between family members.
Another risk to children is that many parents sleep with their younger children, which can be dangerous if the parents have been taking drugs or drinking. Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair. If you are heavily asleep you can roll over on top of the baby and prevent them from breathing.
What you can do:
o Store all drug related items out of sight, in a lockable box, and away from your children (the box can be obtained free of charge from the clinic at New Road in Southampton).
o If your children are aware of your substance use, explain it to them in a way that helps them see it as an adult problem, and not as just a normal way of coping or of feeling better.
o Get your drug use as stable as possible – this may mean seeking help from your GP or Community Team.
o If you are in treatment, but are still not stable, think about whether you are really making the most use of your treatment, or whether you need to ask for a review of your treatment as things are not going as well as you would hope.
o Don’t involve your child in the financial side of your drug use: shoplifting or witnessing any illegal ways you raise money.
o Aim to sort things out for yourself during the day while your children are at school so that you don’t have to leave them in the evenings.
o Ensure that your children do not witness you using drugs or see you under the influence of substances. Find somewhere safe they can be when you are using.
o Protect yourself and your family from hepatitis and other blood borne viruses. Talk to your GP, Genito-urinary clinic, or your drug worker, about how you can reduce the risks you are taking, and consider getting yourself tested for hep A, B and C and HIV if you have not done so already. You may also need to be immunised for hep A and B.
o Be aware of how blood borne viruses are passed on, and ensure that family members keep to their own personal items, such as toothbrushes and razors.
o Make sure that your children know who to call in an emergency. Put details somewhere they know.
o Give your children clear and firm guidelines about drug and alcohol use. It is not hypocritical for you to want them to stay away from using drugs, even though you do so yourself – your experience means that you appreciate more than many parents the risks of using drugs, and therefore you don’t want your children to get into a similar situation.
o Always put your baby/young child safely into their own cot or bed at night, and don’t fall asleep holding them when you have been drinking or using drugs.
Do not using drugs in front of children.
Child protection: The bottom line
Professionals would be concerned for the safety of the children, and obliged to take action to ensure their safety, if the following situations were identified:
Adults taking drugs in front of their children, as they are promoting illegal substance use, and there are also safety issues.
Children becoming involved by the parents in illegal activities such as shop lifting or taking drugs or money to other drug users – as this are encouraging young people to be involved in illegal and often risky activities.
Children not being supervised adequately because the responsible adult is intoxicated or incapable of looking after a child.
Children being exposed to incidents of domestic violence as they themselves could be injured.
Therefore, the minimum standards you need to set to keep your children safe and protected are:
Not involving your children in shoplifting or other illegal activities.
Always ensuring that your children are being looked after.
Always protecting your children from aggression and violence.
II. YOUR CHILDREN'S NEEDS
Parents need to provide basic essentials for their children such as food, clothing, bedding and warmth.
If you are struggling with a serious drug or alcohol problem or you manage to give your children food, but skimp yourself, this can create problems as the children see role model who does not eat, which does not set a healthy example.
Also, they then miss social aspects of eating together as a family which can be important. It can be a regular time for family chat, a time to get to know what is going on in each other’s lives.
There are other home situations where parents feel the need to demonstrate that they are copping by ensuring that their children have all the latest trends and fashions, which can result in increased stress.
There are many reasons why children start to have the odd day off school. It can be because the child themselves wants to stay at home to keep an eye on what is going on, or because they want to make sure that their parents are safe, or perhaps because they are being bullied at school.
It can be that the parents need the child to stay home to take care of younger children, or that they simply don’t have the energy or organisation to ensure that the child is up on time, dressed, fed and taken to school. Parents may not have the money for school trips and avoid the issue by not sending their child into school on those days.
Sometimes the adults in the family have had a bad experience of school themselves and do not recognise the importance of school for their own children. But it is important to support your children by attending parent’s evenings, other school events and talking to teachers about your child’s educational needs.
School can provide much needed routine and safety for children and attendance needs to be encouraged. And also helps them to socialise and, of course, to get an education to have a better chance in life. Allowing just one day off every now and again can quickly become much more and then it is extremely hard to get the child back into the routine of going. It can also affect the child’s attitude towards school, seeing it as unimportant and as a low priority in comparison to home life.
Being on time for school, having the right clothes and the things that they need are very important to children. Lateness increases their anxiety and highlights problems to their friends. It also increases professional’s concerns about the parent’s ability to cope.
As children develop they enjoy different activities. Although this is a natural process, they need help guidance and encouragement from parents to make choices and plan what they do.
As they grow older, as well as leisure time, children also need to start helping around the house. Getting your children to take part in the household chores isn’t just about making your life as parent easier. It is about teaching responsibility and creating a stable home environment where children know what is expected of them, and where they can thrive.
It is very important to get the level of responsibility right for the age of the child. A small child can help by putting their toys away. Older children can be responsible for keeping their room clean and tidy.
While children need some responsibilities, they should not have too many, and they should not be taking over the responsibilities that are the parents. It can be difficult to get this balance right. Talking to teachers, health visitors, friends and visitors can give you a range of different opinions to help you to decide what is healthy, safe and reasonable for child to do.
For adults with a substance dependency problem, they may find themselves needing to spend much time at GP appointments, with trips to the pharmacy, at appointments with their drug worker, raising funds to support any additional drug use, scoring drugs, and using drugs. This can detract from positive time spent with their children, and so it is important to try and work out ways of being able to do that.
Children need to spend time having fun with their parents. It is important to find the time to play a game or go for a walk together – it does not take long, and your children will benefit.
Having routines within the home means that a child usually knows what is going to happen next, which is reassuring for them. Of course there can be occasions when things are spontaneous and unplanned, but day to day life works best for a child when they know what to expect.
Things such as going to school, having meals at roughly the same times, having clean clothes ready and sleeping in their own bed, will help them to become more settled and less anxious. Meal times, homework times and the bed times give a structure to family life.
Sometimes the lifestyle that goes with using drugs dependently results in a lack of planning and routine within the home and events just take over. It is important to work towards establishing a family routine, which does not just revolve around the parent’s needs to use drugs. For example, this might involve more forward planning so that some things are dealt with during the day, and then there is no reason to leave the house once the children return from school.
Obtaining money for drugs and then sorting the drugs themselves can take up a lot of attention and time, and this may lead to people becoming disorganised in other areas of their life. Other things needing to be done can get forgotten or neglected (e.g. child’s health checks). It can become easy to think that it does not matter – you can do it later – tomorrow/next week/sometime….
If routine health checks for the children are missed, such as doctor’s appointments, dental checks and immunisations, this may result in potential health problems not getting dealt with at an early stage. It also raises the concerns of professionals. It is a measurable sign of what people see as ‘good parenting’: that the children are regularly checked and their health needs met.
If you are woman, and you think you may be pregnant, try to arrange to have a pregnancy test quickly so that you know as early as possible. Remember that even if your periods have stopped, you can still get pregnant if you are having unprotected sex. The sooner you know for sure, the quicker you can get the information you need about substance use and pregnancy, the quicker you can get support, and the longer you have to consider what you want to do.
If you don’t want to get pregnant, talk to your Health Visitor, doctor, or another worker you feel comfortable with about contraception options.
Sometimes the roles of child and parent can become confused and children may feel they are responsible for their parent’s behaviour and mood changes. As a result, they may develop intense feelings of guilt.
Sometimes children may have inappropriately high level of responsibility for looking after their parents or fort their brothers or sisters.
Sometimes, perhaps because the adults are unwell through withdrawing, or depressed at their situation, young children end up doing the majority of the household chores, trying to keep things in order to help their parents. This can happen to such an extent that it can stop the children doing what they should be doing; playing, making friends, going to youth and after school clubs or doing their homework. All these things are necessary for their healthy development.
Most areas have services especially for children whose parents are disabled or whose parents are dependent on drugs or alcohol. These Young Cares services can offer children support through helping children meet others in similar circumstances, arranging fun activities, and giving children their own individual support.
Establishing and keeping boundaries for children is demanding for any parent, as children naturally tend to make the most of opportunities when they arise! Even very young children quickly develop an awareness of when their parent has used or when they are withdrawing and stressed.
Parents who are usually great at being firm about important issues may not have the energy or willpower to maintain them on another day if they have used substances.
These inconsistencies mean that children then become unsure of what is allowed and what is not – or, when older they become aware of the times when their parent are likely to let things slip.
Also there may be times when, through lack of drugs, parents are in withdrawal. This is very stressful as well as making it physically hard to do everyday tasks. Care of the children can then become difficult, as parents may not have their usual energy and patience. They may also feel that they need to prioritise obtaining drugs in order to feel well again – which can take up a lot of time.
One of the main ways that children learn how to get on with people is through watching their parents with their friends… This is an important part of family life as it helps the child to develop their skills at interacting and in forming relationships later in life.
Some families where the parents use drugs can isolate themselves, or tend to associate only with other families with similar problems. This can result in the children just mixing with adults who use drugs, which may restrict their view of the world.
Children benefit from safely mixing with a variety of people in different situations. They can then learn how to handle social situations and develop confidence, so it is important that parents try to make this happen.
One of the most difficult issues that face parents who use drugs long term is that of knowing how much to tell their children.
Good relationships are usually based on trust and honesty: this applies just as much to relationships between parents and children as it does to adult relationships. When parents are using drugs they usually wish to keep it a secret from their children and this automatically creates a difficulty in communication.
Parents are often uncertain about whether to be open and honest, which could worry their children, or to be protective and keep everything from them, which is usually unsuccessful anyway.
As a result, parents have to continually decide how much to let their children know, depending on the child’s age and the level of understanding. As a general guide, as situations arise and your child asks specific questions, you need to answer them in a way that does two things:
Firstly, reassure them and help them understand that you have a problem that is difficult to sort out quickly.
Secondly, let them know that it is an adult thing that is not connected with them and so you try to keep it apart from them.
Communication is a two way process and so equally as important as talking to children is listening to them. Listening to children shows that you value their thoughts and ideas. It also encourages their general development as well as their self confidence and self esteem.
Children should feel comfortable to talk to their parents about things that are worrying them. But sometimes children need to talk to others outside of the family, and you should encourage them to talk to people they trust about things they are worried about. That may be worrying for you, but best for your children. Asking children to keep secrets from others outside of the family is an added stress for them and they should not be expected to keep secrets for you.
Children may have a difficult time answering questions from other children about what is going on at home, or what is the problem with their parents. You can help them think up a way of explaining things to their friends, so that they are less anxious about that.
Younger children, who have not learnt how to speak fluently, use their behavior to try and communicate what they want to say or feel and it can be difficult for adults to work out what is going on. But when a child is constantly ‘naughty, it is important to try to think about what is causing this. Talking to your Health Visitor or someone else whose opinion you trust can help.
Also, older children who are troubled, unhappy or angry, can often show that through their behavior, rather than by talking about how they are feeling.
Managing a child’s ‘bad behaviour’ can be challenging to any parent, and this can be made much harder when parents are using drugs or alcohol. It can be difficult not to lose your temper when you, as an adult, are trying to cope with various other stresses and demands in your life. It is important to try to remain calm and in control and not allow your pent up frustrations and emotions over other things to spill out unfairly on to your child.
Each person has its own individual needs. Research has shown that some children are more resilient than others. Some people who have had very difficult childhoods have gone on to have fulfilling lives. Other people from similar backgrounds have been badly affected in the long term because of their childhood.
Children within the same family will be affected differently by what is going on and so it is important to deal with their needs individually. This involves explaining to each child separately what the problems are, helping them get support outside of the family, and reassuring them that your problems are not their responsibility in any way.
Sometimes children appear to be coping well with things – but this does not mean that they will cope well forever. Parents need to check on how their children are managing, as there may be times when they need extra support.
What you can do:
o Buy food at the beginning of the week and put aside/give a trusted relative or friend some cash to use for buying food for the end of the week.
o Depending on your child’s age, you could provide meals that they can easily prepare if you are not available. If your children cannot safely prepare their own food, then you need to plan how they are going to have something to eat.
o Make it a rule that your children go to school every day – and on time – unless they are ill. Once they know that this is no negotiable, it will get easier!
o If you find out that your child is being bullied, speak to the teachers at their school, and make sure your child is getting support they need.
o Set aside some time each day when you can really listen to or play with your children. But don’t let that be an excuse for not being there the rest of the time…
o Decide what is really important for your family and stick to it. It might be all getting together for a meal or your children always coming home for an hour after school, or having regular bedtime. But some part of routine is very good for them. For children under five, you could talk to your Health Visitor about what are the most important things. For older children, school nurses or educational social workers may be able to advice.
o Get a diary or put a calendar on the wall and make sure that certain things get done on the day they are supposed to be. It gets to be a habit to check what is happening the next day – and will make your life (and your children’s) easier.
o Make sure your children receive all the immunisations and health checks they are entitled to.
o Talk to your Health Visitor or someone else you trust about any concerns you have about your children.
o Help your children make the most of their childhood. If they take on too many responsibilities when they are young, it may lead to problems when they are older.
o Ask your children how things could be better for them: find out what is important to them. Children often suggest things that are really only small changes, but would make a lot of difference to them.
o Talk to your children about their support network and the people they feel comfortable to talk to. Help them to create a list of phone numbers, opening hours of youth Clubs, etc. Find out about Young Carers services in your area.
o If your children are aware of you substance use, help them see it as an adult problem that is your responsibility, and not see it as a good way of coping with things.
o When your children misbehave talk to them about why this has happened and why you find it unacceptable.
Child protection: The bottom line
Professionals would be concerned for the safety of the children, and obliged to take action to ensure their safety, if the following situations were identified:
· Children clearly malnourished from not being provided with a reasonable diet.
· Children who have inadequate clothing, and who regularly appear unkempt and uncared for.
· Children not attending school on a regular basis, showing that parents are not supporting the educational needs of their children.
· Children not receiving their regular health checks and immunisations, indicating that their parents are not meeting their health needs.
· Children who, over a lengthy time period, show by their behaviour and communication that they are unhappy and distressed by their home situation.
Therefore the minimum standards that you need to set up to keep your children safe and protected are the following:
Make sure that your children have a reasonable diet, and are adequately dressed and clean.
Aim to get your children to attend school daily unless they are ill.
Make sure that your children receive all the recommended immunisations and health checks.
Provide your children with the structure and care that they need.
III. YOUR HOME
Arranging personal space may be hard for various reasons, but it is important to try to provide somewhere for your children where they can have a friend around, do their homework, and where they can keep their own personal clothes and possessions.
They may need a place they can go at times to feel safe and to get away from what is going on in the rest of the house. Or they may just want to be on their own as this is a natural part of growing up.
Understandably some parents who use drugs do not want their children’s friends in their home in case they see signs of what is happening. This can result in their children only being able to make friends with children of other people who use drugs, which can narrow their opportunities, and can prevent them developing their own support network.
Living conditions. It can be that when parents need to prioritise buying drugs, that other items are unaffordable – even cleaning materials can become a luxury. However, the house needs to be reasonable organised and hygienic. This is not only for health reasons but also for psychological reasons.
Children need a certain amount of structure. They need to have clean school clothes, and can be bullied at school if they are seen to be scruffy and always turning up late.
Also, children learn from their parents; so if they grow up with no understanding of the need for being clean and organised, they may find it difficult to organise themselves in the future – which can make life harder for them.
Using drugs is an illegal and sometimes risky behaviour and so children should be protected from it, and the violence often associated with the lifestyle, as much as possible.
Children need to feel that their home is a safe place to be. The only people living there should be their family members, whom they love, and the occasional trusted friend or family relative. Having various people always drifting in and out can lead to anxiety and insecurity for children. It can also be a potential risk to them.
This situation can become much worse if dealing happens from your home. However much you try to put in limits and ‘opening hours’, people will not respect these when they are feeling ill and desperate. Also, your premises may become known to the police with the subsequent risk of raids, which can be extremely frightening for children. If you are arrested, there are immediate child care issues as to who will look after your children, and they face the trauma of not knowing what will happen to the family if you go to prison.
Other people who use drugs are often looking for what they feel are safe places to use – and it can be very difficult to be assertive and not allow drug taking within your home, especially when you may be given more drugs in exchange for your co-operation. Even if you try to confine this to while the children are at school or out, once your home is known as a place to use, it can affect how the children feel about being safe and compromise their safety.
Any babysitters should be responsible adults who you know well and who you can totally trust with the care of your children. It can be easy to make friends quickly when you are feeling alone and with someone who appears to have the same problems as you – but you really need to know people very well over a period of time before you should trust your children with them.
The other practical way to make your home safe is by ensuring that the basic bills and rent are paid so that there is no risk of eviction.
Used syringes, needles, spoons and filters can all be contaminated with blood containing viruses, and so they need to be disposed of properly, usually at your local needle exchange.
This needs to be done regularly so that there is no build up of used needles at home. Seeing equipment makes children more aware of drug use, and can be a risk for them.
A needle stick injury can transmit hepatitis or HIV. Only a small amount of blood is needed to pass on such viruses. Children are naturally curious and will pick up anything left lying about.
Also, if there are things left around which show that you use drugs, you are unlikely to allow other people to visit such as children’s school friends, non-using neighbours or health visitors. This will isolate your family as mentioned before.
Store your medication in a safe place as children are physically more vulnerable to substances than adults. They as also have less understanding of the consequences of taking drugs and medications.
All such substances and the equipment used should be stored safely away from children, in a locked container or safe. Many drug services now provide lockable storage boxes for parents with children.
Many women keep their methadone in their bag so that it is with them all of the time. This is dangerous as this could easily get lost or accessed by a child, and only one teaspoonful of methadone can kill a small child. If your child ever does take your medications, put them in the recovery position, and call for an ambulance immediately, telling them what your child has taken. If you don’t know what Recovery Position is go to a tab called PREVENTION of this website to learn about recovery position.
What you can do:
o Research shows that many who are dependent on opiates do better when they are in methadone treatment – so if you are not, think about getting help.
o Prioritise helping your child to have a clean and organised room. It does not take much money, just some time effort. This could be given a regular time slot, once a week or more.
o Perhaps have one day a week or an evening where you can get things together so that a school friend can come around to play. Invite their parent in so that they can see where their child is spending time.
o Establish some sort of structure for your child so that they know when they need t get up, when their next meal is, when they are expected to be home, and what day they can bring their friend home.
o Be clear about what chores is the child’s responsibility (such as keeping their bedroom tidy) and what jobs are yours (general housework, paying bills, deciding on financial matters etc.).
o Keep the family home safe by not allowing people to stay that you don’t know well.
o Only allow people that you trust and know well to look after your children.
o Ensure that you prioritise rent and submit any benefits on time. If you start having difficulties, seek help as quick as you can from other agencies such as the CAB (citizens Advice Bureau). Don’t keep putting it off – it will only get worse!
o Arrange for all of your used needles to be taken to the Needle Exchange and then get in the routine of always taking them back when you go for new equipment.
o Keep everything to do with substances (drugs, equipment, medications etc.) somewhere safe and away from your children such as a locked suitcase or lockable medicine cabinet.
o Always quickly clear up any blood spills, ideally with bleach and water.
Child protection: The bottom line
Professionals would be concerned about the safety of the children, and obliged to take action to ensure their safety, if the following situations were identified:
A home which is unhygienic and with a lack of essential furniture, so children have to sleep on the floor, or with dirty bedding for example.
Unknown strangers often staying at the home who may pose risks to the children.
Drugs, methadone, and drug paraphernalia being left lying around the house so that children could easily pick them up and harm themselves.
Violence occurring in the home – from your partner, other drug users and dealers, which places children at risk.
Therefore the minimum standards that you need to set up to keep your children safe and protected are the following:
Make sure that there is adequate essential furniture in your home with such things as cooking facilities and clean bedding.
Do not allow people to stay or babysit unless you know them well and completely trust them.
Never leave injecting equipment lying down around the house where children can get to it, and store drugs and methadone away from reach in a locked cabinet or case.
Protect your children from violence.
IV. HELP AND SUPPORT FOR YOU
Sometimes the families who need the most support because they are having problems are the same families who don’t ask for support because they are having problems! The problems themselves can stop the family from seeking help.
There are many people who can help with problems connected to substance use; your GP, community treatment team, drugs advisory service, voluntary organisations, Genito-urinary clinic, and Service User group.
Your Health Visitor, Children’s Centre and local playgroup can help with advice about children under five. School teachers and nurses can be of help with older children. Connexions are specifically for adolescents between the ages of 16 to 18 years old.
Woman’s Refuges, women’s Aid and the Police can give advice about domestic violence.
Other agencies such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Housing Advice Centre and Social Care may be able to help with other matters.
As well as getting help and support from services, it is also very important that children feel that they are positively involved in a community. If not, families can become isolated, which is not good for children.
Getting involved in social activities helps to build a supportive social network for you and your family. It also develops other areas of life so that drug use is not the main thing anymore. If your main identity is that of a drug or alcohol user, then it will impact upon your child’s identity. Being a child of a drug using parent has an impact upon a child, but it should only be a small part of their identity.
Your religious or ethnic background may cause additional issues, and may increase your sense of isolation. You may wish to obtain to support through religious and spiritual organisations, or local agencies that will understand your cultural needs.
When parents are unable to give their children the best possible care all of the time, it is very important to have other people around who can help out. This can give the children some consistency, which is important for them to feel cared for and develop their self-esteem.
All adults with child-care responsibilities may sometimes find themselves unexpectedly unable to care for their children. For adults who are dependent upon illegal substances or alcohol, the chances of this happening are likely to be greater, because they may be arrested and detained in custody overnight or longer. There are also health risks connected to the use of drugs, which may require urgent admission to hospital.
If you have no plan in place as to where your children will go in such emergencies, then not only will they be worried about their parents, but they will also be further confused and anxious about what is going to happen to them. It is important to have a detailed plan in place with arrangements that the child is aware of.
This can help reduce not just the anxiety in the crisis situation, but also the anxiety that a child might have on a daily basis in anticipation at the next crisis.
Children need contact and support from someone who is a positive influence and does not use substances problematically. It could be someone who is a friend or a family member.
Sometimes adults who have problems with drugs tend to isolate their families so that they can keep the problem to themselves. They discourage contact from other relatives as they do not want any interference or for their family to know the full extent of the problem.
Unfortunately this may mean that the children in the family lose touch with people who could be a real support to them such as Gran-parents, Aunts and Uncles. If this is something that has happened to you, it is worth thinking about how your children can have regular contact with such people.
If you don’t have family then it is even more important to have contact with non drug using friends and people in the community such as youth clubs, religious groups and local community centres.
There may be particular issues that you have as an individual which you would like help with. Your substance use may stem from problems that you have not been able to deal with in the best way up to now.
Many people who use substances problematically also have other problems such as depression, eating disorders, self-harming behaviours, sexuality issues or traumatic/difficult experiences in their past which make life harder for them. Now may be the right time for you to ask about counselling or other specific support, such as referral to the Community Mental Health Team, Eating Disorders Consultant, Genito-Urinary Clinic or Psychologist.
If you are not ready to speak to another professional agency, you could try finding local support groups or charitable organisations where you can begin to talk about, understand and work through these issues.
You may have lost touch with the family members or past friends because they could not handle your substance misuse. People who have not had a drug or alcohol problem can find it difficult to understand the issues around dependent substance use. There are services especially for relatives of people with substance problems, which can help them to understand things better, and give them the support that they also need. People who used to be supportive may still be able to give you some support if you get back in contact with them and talk honestly about your problems.
What you can do:
o Find out what services are available through the library, local paper, the CAB or from any agency you are already involved with.
o Contact any agencies who might be able to help – think about the things you need support with, and find out who can do what.
o Become a part of the community in a positive way; become a volunteer, join a Service User group. If there is anything available, start one! You may be able to get some support from your worker to do this. You will need to have a Criminal Records Bureau check completed, but a past criminal history does not necessary stop you from becoming a volunteer.
o Have a realistic plan in place so that if anything happens which means you are unavailable to look after your children (hospital, prison) then they are cared for well. Keep it up to date. Make sure that everyone knows what the arrangements are.
o This plan should include who to call, where they should stay, money for transport if that will be needed and important telephone numbers.
o Encourage your children to get the support they need. Help them keep in contact with their grandparents, and other family members, even if you don’t want to meet up with them yourself. Your children have the right to support from their relatives.
o Help from services is often out there, but you need to be stable and motivated enough to keep appointments. Talk this through with someone you can trust and work out how you can make the most of the supports available. Text reminders in advance or notes in calendar/diary.
o Consider making contact with family members or friends who may be able to give you some support – but be realistic about what they can do. It may be just a monthly phone call but even that would be regular from someone who means something to you, and could lead to more.
o Show your children that you don’t just put up your problems; you deal with them!
Child protection: The bottom line
Professionals would be concerned about the safety of the children, and obliged to take action to ensure their safety, if:
You are resistant to help and support and refuse to cooperate with services – this increases the existing concerns, as professionals are unable to get all the information they need. They feel that the family are not working with them to try to make things better for the children.
Therefore the minimum standard you need to set to keep your children safe and protected is:
Accept support from the agencies trying to help you and your children. If you do, then the situation should improve. If you resist and are uncooperative, then your situation will be unlikely to improve and you will have the additional stress of the agencies becoming highly concerned – and you risk making your situation even worse.
* 'Drugs and Parenting' Workbook, published by Exchange Supplies (2010). www.echangesuplies.org