For one young mother, a quick ice fix turned into a four-year battle with addiction. It was a decision that broke her relationship, mental health, and ultimately saw her children taken from her.
- One former ice user says drug use “probably the biggest cause of children being removed that I know”
- Experts say no easy solution in world of child protection, as many families struggle with intergenerational trauma
- Ice use across Australia sharply increased between 2010 and 2013, and since has remained at 2013 levels
Megan (not her real name) was struggling to cope after a traumatic childhood partly spent in state care.
She was abusing prescription drugs and spent time in prison. When she was released, she started using ice.
“I was using pretty much every day, and sadly my kids were the ones who suffered the most,” Megan said.
“What led to it was childhood traumas … I was sexually abused at age five, my dad was violent, so I ran away and became a state ward … I was homeless for so many years.”
Now, she has been clean for more than two years, is studying for a career in social work, and has set up a support group for other mums involved with child-protection services.
Megan said the drug ice was “devastating families” and knew many other mothers who had had a similar struggle.
“Some that I went to school with, others who I’ve met in groups — a large number is because of amphetamines. Probably the biggest cause of children being removed that I know is around the drug use,” she said.
Ice having ‘a big impact’ on child protection
Ice use across Australia sharply increased between 2010 and 2013, and since then has remained at 2013 levels, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
The number of kids in out-of-home care has also dramatically spiked since 2010.
An ABC analysis found in the seven years since ice use started to increase, the number of children in out-of-home care in Australia climbed by about 33.5 per cent.
A senior boss at the NSW department responsible for child-protection services said ice had played a factor in rising child-protection rates around the country.
“Drugs like ice have had a big impact,” said Lisa Charet, executive district director for Families and Community Services.
“They’re incredibly addictive [and] the treatment methods aren’t as established as some other drugs.
“People find it hard, and people are really not themselves when they use those sorts of drugs.”
The number of children on care and protection orders in Australia has grown by almost 45 per cent since 2010.
Indigenous children are notably over-represented, being up to 10 times more likely to be admitted to out-of-home care in 2017.
The Northern Territory has the highest rate of children in care, at 16.8 kids per 1,000, but NSW has the largest population of kids in out-of-home care — more than 17,000 children.
This year there was a 10 per cent fall in the number of children in out-of-home care around the country. (ABC News: Gregory Nelson )
Ms Charet is responsible for the western Sydney district and the Nepean Blue Mountains district, which has the highest rate of children living in out-of-home care in the state.
“Parents love their kids, but they have their own traumas, and their own issues that they need to deal with,” she said.
“Unfortunately that leads to violence in the home, drug and alcohol problems, and neglect, and that’s what leads to kids coming into care.
“I think that’s the least desirable option, and wherever possible we are trying to keep kids at home with their families.”
A Queensland Government report from 2017 found one third of children brought into state care had parents who used methamphetamines, most commonly ice.
A report from the Victorian Children’s Commissioner earlier this year found 87 per cent of children in out-of-home care were exposed to drugs and alcohol.
In this year’s national report card on child protection, it highlighted there was, “no national data available on the reasons children are placed in out-of-home care”.
Explosion of young women seeking meth treatment
One of the biggest providers of alcohol and drug services in NSW, Lyndon, has seen a 23 per cent increase since 2012 in the number of people seeking treatment for methamphetamine use.
Lyndon’s alcohol and drug researcher Dr Julaine Allan said that had been driven by a significant increase in the number of women looking for help.
“It’s definitely changed since 2011 to 2012 … there’s just been a really big change in the demographics of people coming in for treatment,” she said.
“Women are always a smaller proportion of the drug and alcohol treatment population, so it’s about 65 per cent men and about 35 per cent women.
“But in the younger age ranges — so the group under 30 — the proportion of women is greater and that’s a really unusual thing that’s happening in that age group.”
Women seeking treatment were often involved with child-protection services, Dr Allan added.
“Lots of times they are coming because their children have been taken away or there’s a threat of them being taken away, so they’re being pushed by child-protection agencies because of their drug use,” she said.
Child-protection system ‘changing’, but more work needed
Ms Charet, from NSW Families and Community Services, warned there was no silver bullet in the world of child protection — many families were struggling with intergenerational trauma and parents often spent time in care themselves as young people.
While the overall number of children engaging with the child-protection system is growing, the number of children in out-of-home care has slowed.
A Victorian report found 87 per cent of children in out-of-home care were exposed to drugs and alcohol. (ABC News)
This year there was a 10 per cent fall in the number of children in out-of-home care around the country.
“From the year 2015-16 to 2016-17 there was, across the state, a 25 per cent reduction in the number of children coming in to out-of-home care,” Ms Charet said.
But the number of children who have been the subject of notifications, substantiations, care and protection orders has continued to rise.
For Megan, she believes much more could be done for families, but does think the system is improving.
“I have seen a lot of change from the time I was in care to the time when my children were removed, and then even from when my children were removed to now,” she said.
“There is starting to be a shift, but there definitely needs to be more work done.
“There needs to be an increase in early intervention with families … they need to work on keeping families together … [instead of] tearing them apart in a crisis time, because it’s so hard to be reunited.”