By the Pompidou Group
Children whose parents use drugs find themselves at the intersection of two axes: children’s rights and drug policy; each axe is in itself a container of numerous and changing focuses, laws, regulations and policy interventions that should, but not always are, glued by human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Children who live in families or environments -institutions, prisons (when living with an incarcerated parent, usually the mother), extended families, communities, etc.- where dependent or problematic drug use takes place, may be affected by neglect, violence, poor parental performance and exposure to the unsupervised contact with substances. The challenges as well as the coping mechanisms developed by families and children to face the impacts of drug use, intersect with categories such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, economic circumstances and education, thus creating differential and unique needs and resilience.
The attempt to shed light on the particular relationship of parents’ drug use and children’s rights answers to different reasons. The first one is that children whose parents use drugs face particular and specific hardships and that their experience should be visibilized and listened to through participatory mechanisms in order for their opinion to be taken into account and included in the shaping of public policies -prevention, treatment, harm reduction and the use of the criminal justice system- that affect them directly or indirectly. Such efforts should aim at the fulfillment of articles 2, 3, 6, 9 and 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereinafter CRC).
The second reason is that the effects of dependent or problematic drug use on children do not stem solely from their parents’ relationship with psychoactive substances, but from the implementation of drug-related policies as well. It is not the same, by instance, to have a father or a mother who injects heroine and is under constant threat of criminalization and incarceration, than a parent who has access to harm reduction services, a compassionate, health-based approach with a holistic view at families; or to be a child in foster care, son or daughter to a single mother dependent on alcohol because of a history of gender-based violence than a child taken care of in a shelter with his or her mother, while she is treated and, at the same time, protected.
To review and analyse what actually exists in relation to this group of children can help build better approaches and practices, which guarantee the incorporation of children’s rights and human rights in drug policy while also including the specificities of the effects of drug use by one or more parents on children into the children’s rights agenda, thus filling an existing gap that requires further data, research and public policies.