Should drug addicts have their kids taken away?

As a parent, I sometimes read things that pull at the fabric of every parenting principle I hold dear.

Case in point: the story of Celia, a "city Aboriginal" who is trying to help her daughter get her son back after the child was taken by DOCS due to the mother's substance abuse.

Celia herself was caught up in generational substance abuse. She and most mothers she knows take drugs, as did her elders and as do her children. Her daughters were taken from her several times. Each time, she was bereft.

She admits she's not a perfect mother. She knows mothers in her community need to try and do better. The bottom line for Celia is that she feels mothers who take drugs - whether they be Aboriginal or not - are treated more harshly by DOCS than parents who are violent.

She writes, "There's a stigma attached to have a record with drugs and I'm not only talking about black girls, it happens to white girls too. It breaks my heart. DOCS are breaking families apart and killing us." You can read more of her story at

Parental substance abuse is a major concern in Australia. As a society we are dealing with parents who not only abuse illegal drugs but those who have become reliant on legal drugs and those who abuse alcohol.

DOCS has long been known to be an understaffed and underfunded government agency struggling to keep up with an impossible number of reports of children who may be in danger. Kids are falling through the cracks.


We need to do better.

A clinic has been opened in Western Australia built specifically to help mums deal with alcohol abuse. Cyrenian House runs the Saranna residential program in Beechboro and it's 14 houses are always full, with dozens of other women and their children lined up for vacancies. This is treatment specifically designed for mums and children.

Manager Carol Daws says the ages of the children varied from babies to upper primary school but included even newborn babies because some women signed up for treatment while pregnant.

Though the service has been running for years, it was expanded to cope with demand. Similar reports are being received from drug and alcohol programs across the country. They just don't have the room and resources to help every parent who needs it.

Celia's daughter sort help for her drug problem but wasn't accepted into her local program.

Australian children deserve more.

A government report into parental substance abuse shows more than half of women with substance abuse issues admit their ability to parent is being affected. Other mums claim they go out of their way to make sure this doesn't happen, only using substances while children are at school or with family members. Some mum say they go great lengths to ensure their children don't find out about their substance abuse issues.

But kids are smarter than that. They know much more than we realise.


Michelle Scott is the first ever Commissioner for Children and Young People in WA. She visited Saranna as part of Drug Action Week. She says: "We know the well being of parents is linked to the well being and healthy development of their children. In Australia, alcohol and other drug use by parents contribute to around 60 to 80 per cent of all protection orders where children are moved into the care of the Department for Child Protection and Family Support."

The effects of a childhood ruined by drug addict parents is well-documented.

Children who are exposed to parents who use drugs suffer physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally. They are profoundly affected not only by observing substance abuse up close but by the knowledge that at some level they can't completely trust their parent to prioritise their well being.

The problem for DOCS is that many of these effects don't come to the surface until these kids are adolescents. They may seem like they are fine, and reasonably well cared for, but kids are little sponges and they know more than we realise. Many won't act out until much later after the damage has already been done.

When a parent uses drugs the bonding process is disrupted, according to Parental drug use affects children in the following ways:

- A disruption of the bonding process between parent and child;

- Normal childhood development is stunted;

- Emotional problems such as less communication;


- Academic struggles;

- Developmental problems;

- Lack of supervision;

- A child or sibling having to act as the parent;

- Social stigma;

- Adolescent substance use;

- Adolescent delinquency;

- Emotional problems well into adulthood.

These are just some of the adverse affects parental drug use has on children, but it's enough to know that it profoundly life-altering. The possible adverse effects of parental substance abuse reads like a list of everything we should be trying not to do to our children.

This isn't even getting into the ins and outs of parents trying to provide for their substance abuse.

As these children become older they become increasingly aware that their parents can't always care for them. To compensate, these children try to become the caregivers in their family. This is just too sad.

So what's the solution?

More centres like Cyrenian House are needed so that every single mother who reaches out for help can get it. Then DOCS can concentrate on dealing with those parents not willing to help themselves.

What are your thoughts on the rights of drug addict parents?