Addiction: Respecting Children’s Rights

The time has come to address the rights of children who are exposed to substance misuse

Sad boy

The negative impact of parental alcohol or drug misuse can affect the child both in the short and the long term, and can cause problems throughout their whole life – Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

By Lucía Goberna – For over 65 years, World Children’s Day has been celebrated each year on 20th November to raise awareness and promote the wellbeing of children and adolescents. Children of parents with problematic use of alcohol and other drugs are more likely to suffer from health, social and psychological problems which could impact their development and daily lives.

At Dianova, we believe that there is a significant gap in addiction treatment services where these children are concerned. So we ask: What changes need to be made to secure a better future for them? What are the implications of creating comprehensive policies on addiction, and how does the provision of services impact on rights?

To answer those questions, Dianova organised the webinar Focus on the Rights of Children whose Caregivers Misuse Alcohol and Other Drugs on 22nd November 2021, attended by approximately fifty people. We invited five leading experts to share their varied insights on the issue.

Among the specific recommendations: improve data collection, coordination between services, and offer treatment targeted at women only

Corina Giacomello, consultant at the Council of Europe’s Pompidou Group, opened by presenting the initial results from a research project which is being carried out by the Council of Europe across 16 countries. Among the recommendations presented to improve the situation for children affected, it was highlighted that integrated strategies are needed at national and local level, and that countries should review their demand indicators for addiction treatment to include more information about the children of recipients in order to better monitor the overall situation. Also, there is a need for better coordination with social services, child protection services and other care networks, as well as more treatment services exclusively for women. More information about the research and recommendations can be found here.

Identifying the main challenges for providing treatment services and harm reduction, and the steps that need to be taken

Next, Caroline Fuller and Gisela Hansen from Dianova presented the initial results from a survey carried out by Dianova this year, among organisations that provide treatment and harm reduction services, regarding the protection of children’s rights within these services. The survey was used to produce the infographic presented at the event on “Protecting the Rights of Children who are Exposed to Substance Misuse”.

The infographic illustrates a number of things, including the challenges faced by professionals working in addiction services to balance protecting the rights of the child whilst supporting the adult receiving treatment for their addiction; the need for gender-sensitivity within services; and the need not only to acknowledge, but also to take action against potential violations of children’s rights that inevitably require more training for staff, as well the know-how to set up necessary networks and a sense of moral duty.

Another issue that was raised concerned the need for a balance between supporting parents in a respectful way without creating stigma whilst always respecting the best interests of the child. Of course, the majority of those who took part in the survey identified this challenge as one that needed dealing with as a matter of urgency.

Making children’s rights a priority: the need to coordinate service provision

Next, Nicola Corrigan, from the HSE National Social Inclusion Office in Ireland, presented a best practice example from Project “Hidden Harm”. This groundbreaking project was put in place as a joint initiative of the health and family planning services to collaboratively inform and tackle how to provide support and services for children affected by parental substance misuse.

This led to the publication of a practice guide for health and social services practitioners to promote prevention and early intervention, amongst other initiatives. They also held training sessions and workshops for better cooperation between services. This is a comprehensive and integrated response, which is much needed in order to protect children’s rights in such sensitive situations.

Examples of how to address the issue in complicated situations

Finally, we heard from Diane Joseph, director of the Forth Wave Foundation in India. Diane considered the case of Kerala where a third of children in foster care have a parent who suffers from drug misuse, and where there is a desperate lack of social services. In this context, programmes for prevention, parenting training, gender-sensitive programmes, and those that promote community integration are all crucial.

A Question and Answer session followed during which various topics were discussed including the role of the private sector, information was shared from specific studies, and the consequences of stigma was addressed.

On behalf of Dianova, we would like to thank the speakers for their time and expertise. We were delighted by the keen interest and motivation shown by professionals on this sensitive matter, which is often still invisible due to a lack of identification or fear of taking action that could cause harm to communities. The time has come to address the rights of children who are exposed to substance misuse!