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Home > When parents use drugs: key findings from a study of children in the care of drug-using parents.

Hogan, Diane and Higgins, Louise (2001) When parents use drugs: key findings from a study of children in the care of drug-using parents. Dublin: Children's Research Centre.

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Both nationally and internationally the social and psychological needs of children whose parents use drugs is an issue that has received surprisingly little attention from researchers, and tends to be medical rather than social or psychological. Recent research findings have cast doubt on the stereotypical image of heroin user as a single male without family roles or responsibilities, and it is estimated that 31% of those receiving treatment in Dublin are female. The objective of this research study is to explore the impact of parental opiate use on children's day-to-day life within families, focussing on primary school aged children in the care of at least one opiate using parent.

Drug using parents were approached through a range of statutory and voluntary service providers. The selection criteria was that parents viewed themselves as problem opiate users and that they had children of primary school age who had been in their care for most of the previous year. A sample of non-drug using parents with similar social and economic backgrounds was created through random sampling of children in schools in the area in which the target group of families lives. The target group consisted of 50 families, as did the comparison group. Interviews were conducted with 100 parents (68 mothers, 32 fathers). 2 focus groups with professionals who work with drug users and/or their children were conducted in a range of sites.

A survey questionnaire of 26 schools with teachers of children of users and non-drug users was also carried out. 4 key areas in which parental drug use may have an impact on children's daily life have been identified: Children may experience disruption to care provision and routines in daily life; Children may witness drug use and related activities such as drug dealing and other crimes; Children may worry about the welfare of their parents and families and need support and reassurance; and, Children may be at risk of poor attendance in school and low parental involvement in their education. The report recommends increased support for parents in terms of a more family oriented approach in drug treatment services as well as providing more practical parental support in the home.


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