Remove addicts' children, says priest


CONSIDERATION should be given to taking children of drug-abusing parents away from them until they are in a position to properly look after their offspring, a leading campaigner on social issues has said.

Fr Peter McVerry told a conference in Dublin yesterday he felt very sorry for the children of active drug users as they did not receive the love and attention they needed. It was his view that living in such an environment made children “harder of heart”, leading to less empathy for others in society and greater levels of violence in communities.

He said how the children of active drug users were looked after was a question which therefore had to be debated by society.

“I’m really just putting it out for debate . . . I just see the children, young children, of active drug-using parents and I just feel so sad for those kids,” Fr McVerry added.

“And I think it’s very unfair that kids should grow up in a situation where they’re not really being cared for, they are not receiving the love and affection and the attention that children need because the parents are caught up with their own issues and their focus is on themselves rather than on their children.”

He believed there were two options available. Either give massive support to the families of these children by providing alternative care for the children for a number of hours a day, or remove the children altogether from the family home.

“Or alternatively you take the child away from the parents until the parents are in a position to properly look after the child. People are very reluctant to do that.

“We’re very reluctant to do either of them because of the expense involved, but if we’re going to put children first it is an issue we really have to decide on,” he added.

“But if we’re going to prevent the children of drug-using parents from becoming themselves drug-users, there has to be some major intervention in the life of the child or in the life of the family, or both.”

Fr McVerry said we were now beginning to see the third generation of families where drug use was a problem.

“I’ve seen the second generation. I think they’re much harder to deal with than the first generation.

“There is a hardness there and a resistance there to some interventions that wouldn’t have been there in the first generation, and my fear is that that is going to accumulate as the generations go on.”

He was addressing a conference in Dublin Castle marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of Ballymun Youth Action Project, the State’s longest-running community drugs project. Fr McVerry lives in Ballymun where, he said, the drug of choice was now crack cocaine.

Sunniva Finlay, manager of the Ballyfermot Star community drugs project, told the conference the profile of those now seeking help for drug abuse ranged in age from 17 to 64 years as a result of intergenerational abuse. This posed a challenge for health services, Ms Finlay added.