Support for children who use drugs

I have always thought that most people in our country feel it is easier to adjust to certain decisions enforced by society than to fight for changes.

When I started working in HOPS as an outreach worker for children who use drugs I was shocked. To a great extent this was due to the fact that I had no idea that 4-year-old children inhale glue or that 8- and 9-year-old children could possibly inject methadone or diazepam. However, I was the most upset by the lack of opportunities for treatment and re-socialization of these children. That is why I love my job. I am happy to be helping children who use drugs at least within the allowed legislative frames, which are pretty strict towards these children.

Most of the children our outreach team contacts are children from the streets. This is because these are the children we detect as we see them every day on the city streets begging. I have noticed that they are afraid of professional staff, of institutions and the police, and as painful as it is, from social workers as well. I often wonder whether and how has our system failed in the care and work with these children. At first they were afraid of our team as well. They feared we might take them to an orphanage/institution and separate them from their parents. Of course, even though most of them were already placed in some kind of institutions for children, we found them every day on the streets inhaling glue, injecting methadone and begging. I find it difficult to understand how no one is looking for these children, no one is concerned where they might be and what they might be doing. Can they be motivated to remain in these institutions and continue with their education?

I have to admit, it took some time to gain their trust. In my personal experience, a crucial moment is the parents’ strenuous efforts to deal with the problem of drug addiction and look for a solution. However, the parents are not the only one bearing responsibility. The institutions should also be aware, and I suppose they are, of this problem and should react. More specifically, I mean the Social Work Center and the Ministry of Health.

In my practice I have encountered parents who are persistent to deal with their children’s drug addiction and attempt to find various solutions. Some take their children to the Clinic of Psychiatry, Department of Children’s and Adolescent Psychiatry. Some attempt to deal with the problem in the privacy of their own home, which unfortunately happens in most cases. They simply have no will to turn to an institution or when they do so they find empty answers with no solution. Hence, they isolate themselves home in an attempt to find some solution. As cruel as it may sound, some parents refuse to face the problem and let the children deal with it themselves. In such circumstance children succumb to the challenges of their surrounding in order to fit in easily.

Most of the children we get in touch with, as I mentioned above, are from the streets. They mostly move in a group comprised of boys and girls from 7 to 16 years of age. They are left to deal with the situation alone, to find money for drugs, earn it from begging or thefts. This forces children to make decisions unusual for their age, such as theft or offering sexual services. Consequently, apart from being isolated and discriminated by society, these children are daily faced with different “labels” imposed on them. Such behavior threatens these children’s psychological development.

And now for the main question: What to do with these children and who will take responsibility for them, the parents, the state or the institutions?

Our outreach team does field work twice a week, offering support, encouraging and informing those who have no access to the necessary information. My impression, in my experience, is that institutions turn a deaf ear to the possibility of undertaking specific measures to surpass and solve this problem, despite the open invitation to join us in our outreach work. Fortunately, HOPS is not the only organization working with children who use drugs, as we was proved in June 2016 when 18 civil society organizations supported the media campaign on the problems these children face. We also welcome the Ombudsman’s efforts who reports on the state of children who use drugs and supports the creation of a treatment program with proper protocol for children who use drugs. In addition, the Committee for Protection of Children’s Rights, the Committee for Human Rights, the Committee for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Committee for Elimination for All Forms of Racial Discrimination expressed their concerns and issued recommendations for the support of children who use drugs. All committees recommended that the state provides access to drug use prevention programs, as well as rehabilitation programs for all children who use drugs.

Ivana Shalevska

The author is a social worker in the harm reduction outreach team at HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje.