New hope for addict mothers

Social Development MEC Albert Fritz helps the director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, Shaheema McLeod, cut the ribbon to launch the Substance Abuse Unit and Orientation Unit at the centre.

Very few drug-addicted mothers are prepared to go into rehab for six months and leave their children at a place of safety because they risk losing them if they don’t recover.

And because the risk is so great, many would rather opt not to get help.

This is according to Joy Lange, director of St Anne’s Homes in Woodstock, which is a place of safety for abused, pregnant and homeless women and children.

Ms Lange is among many from the Western Cape Women’s Shelter Movement to welcome a new substance abuse wing that was opened at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children.

The centre saw the need to expand its emergency shelter and therapeutic services to accommodate abused women who also have a history of drug abuse, because up to 80 percent who seek help there, test positive for illegal substances.

What compounds the situation, according to Saartjie Baartman’s director, Shaheema McLeod, is that many young mothers do not have childcare alternatives.

“The number of women who seek our services and test positive for drug use has increased dramatically in recent years,” she said.

Before the women can participate in our therapeutic and job skills programmes, abstinence from all non-prescription drugs is necessary.

“We have expanded our services to include rehabilitation from soft drugs in response to the growing need.

Ms McLeod said: “It is necessary to provide support services that these women can access with their children. Women with addiction are seldom able to bring their children along when seeking rehabilitation. If we do not move with the times, we will do a disservice to our clients. It is also important that both mother and child feel safe and are in a good space.”

Ms Lange echoed Ms McLeod’s sentiments, adding that there was an eight-week waiting period at government rehabilitation centres.

“The problem is now, and it can’t wait to be addressed. Now we are able to refer women to the Saartjie Baartman Centre who need this service. One can’t blame the women for not wanting to ‘sign their child over’, because if they do not get off the drugs, they don’t get their children back,” Ms Lange said.

The Substance Abuse Unit was launched together with the Orientation Unit, on Thursday September 8. The Substance Abuse Unit helps women come off drugs that do not require medical in-patient supervision, such as dagga, tik, cocaine, mandrax, glue and over-the-counter medications. It cannot help heroin addicts.

A maximum of eight women can stay for two weeks in the Substance Abuse Unit, before they are transferred to the Orientation Unit. During this time, their children will be cared for by a house mother, and, although they will not share the same sleeping space, they will be able to spend time together, have a meal together and the mothers are also able to tuck their children in at bedtime. Women who are not addicted to drugs, will go to straight to the Orientation Unit – which can accommodate up to 24 women and children – before being transferred to the longer-term Therapeutic and Independent Living Units.

“An orientation period increases the effectiveness of our intervention by allowing better medical, psychological and situational assessments to take place at an early stage,” Ms McLeod said.

If a service like this existed a few years before, Emma Jones*, 33, might not have lost custody of her children.

She dreams of raising her own children, but social workers placed them with their paternal relatives, because of Ms Jones’s drug addiction.

Ms Jones is one of the clients at Saartjie Baartman, who arrived there in July. She is a recovering drug addict, who used tik, dagga and mandrax.

“I’ve been a drug addict for many years, but my addiction got worse after my mother’s death in June last year. I was raped by my brother and abused by my boyfriend, and I lost my two children. I just didn’t care anymore about anything. When I hit rock bottom, I went to look for help, and someone brought me here. The minute I walked into this building, I could immediately sense that they would understand my pain. My first week was the most difficult, but the night supervisor stood by me to help me detoxify.

“I used to be very aggressive, but I learnt here how to manage my anger and how to communicate. I have so many regrets, and I have stolen from so many people to feed my addiction. I also had to learn to forgive myself, before I could forgive others. The staff at Saartjie Baartman taught me how to love myself again.

“I miss my children a lot. I just want them to come home to me. I want to raise them myself. I acknowledge, however, that there is still a lot I must work on. For now, I am taking it one day at a time. We enjoy a strong bond among the ladies here. The supervisors and all the staff here are full of love, and they make us feel so important. That makes me feel very good,” Ms Jones said.

Social Development MEC Albert Fritz cut the ribbon to open the Substance Abuse Unit and Orientation Unit. His department funds the centre, which is also the site of the department’s Khuseleka Model – a 24-hour “place of refuge” for victims of crime, for which R3.35million was allocated for this year.

Mr Fritz thanked the management of the centre for “always being innovative and leading government” as to what must be done.

“The Substance Abuse Unit renders treatment and detox services, and the programme used by the centre has been developed in conjunction with the Department Of Social Development (DSD). Key to our efforts in tackling the scourge is the ‘whole-of-society’ approach, which involves building partnerships with the private sector, NGOs, and individuals in our communities. Our efforts include a multi-pronged approach to addressing the challenge, involving the provincial departments of Social Development, Health, Education and a number of NGOs.

Social Development is providing R58-million this year to 36 NGO partners providing treatment for substance abuse at 51 sites across the province.

BLOBThe Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children was established 17 years ago, and has helped more than 180 000 victims of crime and violence. Over and above offering long and short-term safe shelter, the centre offers a number of programmes that address gender-based violence in society, the economic disempowerment of women and child exposure to violence – including legal assistance, job skills training, counselling, a school life skills programme, and daycare for children staying at the centre.