As a result of the growth of meth labs in particular, we saw increasing concern about the risks for children in these environments. These included concerns that the parents would expose the children to unhealthy lifestyles that included use of drugs, presence of a criminal lifestyle and the violence that would go with that. It also meant that there would be concerns that the children would be neglected.
Much of the literature that can be found is focused on meth labs with a great deal of attention to the toxicity risks that can go with them. There are of course other production environments, particularly those related to marijuana.
New research brings into question some of the assumptions that have underpinned child protection thinking. Moller et al., (2011) in Toronto have produced research that suggests that the health status of children should not be seen as automatically compromised. They state, "Despite our findings that 30% of the children in our study tested positive for drugs of abuse in their hair, we found that the vast majority were in good health at the time of examina- tion, which was within 1 to 2 weeks from their removal from their homes. The rates of the mostly minor health issues ob- served were well within the range expected in Canada and other developed countries (Table I). The current protocol followed by Police and Children’s Aid Societies has been based on the assumption that the grow-houses and the individuals who operate them are not safe for children. It is not clear whether the risk of interrupting a nurturing parent- child relationship has been adequately considered in all cases" (In Press).
This reminds us that, in child protection work, we must be careful to ensure we are working with supported facts on a case by case basis as opposed to formulaic thinking that a risk will apply to all children in a particular situation.
Some other Canadian research has also challenged automatic thinking around drug use. "The findings of this study, consistent with the practices and insights of participants in our research, suggest that some mothers who use drugs and who have personal difficulties are still able to care for their children without intervention from child protective services" (Drabble & Poole, 2011, p. 143).
Both of these research conclusions can be difficult to accept and even more difficult for child welfare and courts to manage. Should they be willing to accept that some level of drug use may be acceptable if the needs of the child are being met?
As Drabble & Poole (2011) also note, some level of relapse is also normal in addictions. Again, how much is acceptable and how much is not. Clinically, I have tended to take the position that there are two factors in particular that need to be considered - what did the client do as a result of the relapse and the recency and duration of the relapses.
Both of these pieces of research cause us to reflect on some important assumptions that have become the norm in child protection thinking in manna quarters.
Drabble, L & Poole, N. (2011): Collaboration between addiction treatment and child welfare fields: Opportunities in a Canadian context. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 11, (2), 124-149. doi: 10.1080/1533256X.2011.570657
Moller,M., Koren, G., Karaskov, T., & Garcia-Bournissen, F., (2011) Examining the health and drug exposures among Canadian children residing in drug-producing homes. The Journal of Pediatrics, In Press. 10.1016/j.jpeds.2011.05.044