DDN Magazine April 2023 DDN April_2023 | Page 14



Mothers have been misunderstood , under-represented and ignored – it ’ s time to redress the balance , says Anna Millington


am a mother , a drug user , an activist , a researcher , a trainer and a professional . I ’ ve used drugs from the age of 13 – I was a problematic user when my child was young , I ’ ve been to prison on several occasions , been sentenced to various criminal justice orders and traversed through the whole spectrum of drug treatment . I also had my child put into the care of my mother for a period before regaining full rights .
During the last 15 years I ’ ve worked within the drug treatment sector at national level , with the government , academia and the probation service , and within prisons . I ’ ve been on the ground floor helping my peers voluntarily for a long time – I ’ m passionate about making sure there are effective ways out for people if they want it , and help and harm reduction if they don ’ t .
For the last eight years I ’ ve worked extensively providing harm reduction equipment and wide-ranging peer support to mothers who use drugs . Those in hiding and in fear , those with extensive needs who feel alone and trapped , unable to come forward . These mothers may not make up the majority of the using community , but they can be one of the highest-costing sectors societally , generationally , and economically . Providing what may be termed as highrisk support to this group is demanding , and has had both positive and negative outcomes , but I believe that risk is inherent in anything – including doing nothing at all .
SKEWED SYSTEM Let me be clear before I continue – I think the work and focus on women by activists , peers , workers , managers , and leaders is fantastic . I ’ m not trying to diminish nor take anything away from that , because I champion the need in this male-dominated system to finally address us , listen to us and understand our needs , as well as adapt services and service provision .
However , if we ’ re going to fully embrace women and finally make major changes to include their needs in everything we do it ’ s impossible to discuss us in relation to the criminal justice system , harm reduction , drug treatment and recovery without including within that – as a priority – motherhood .
It ’ s clear this sector of our using community has continually been misunderstood , underrepresented , and constantly ignored unless under the guise of a misguided and illjudged child protection rhetoric .
A tokenistic head nod when discussing ‘ women ’ generally without specifics of who we are and what we explicitly require as mothers , as part of a family unit , is not acceptable . It ’ s not just professionals that avert their gaze and interest from us either
– recovery / peer community led projects do too .
STERN JUDGEMENTS We face harsh and complicated barriers when accessing harm reduction services , and we face sterner judgements and discrimination both societally and within professional and peer services . It ’ s almost impossible to be a drug using mother and for that to be okay in and of itself .
We can use drugs without this automatically causing harm to children . It ’ s not a given that risk and harm naturally follow from the use of drugs themselves . It ’ s often the lifestyle and the associated links that tend to be a problem . If services work from the belief that parental drug use is negative , that it equates to risk or harm or its ‘ user representatives ’ hold this belief then it ’ s most likely that they are incapable of addressing this topic adequately , logically , and impartially . Nor can they effectively and fairly represent , or proactively work with , this group . It ’ s doomed from the start .
We ’ re required to make superhuman leaps in the drug treatment system . We are punished if we don ’ t adhere to unrealistic goals within unrealistic
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