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Each year, around 80 percent of New Zealand adults consume drugs, with alcohol being by far the most popular substance of choice.    

Making sure you have a plan if you're thinking of using drugs is always a good idea, but when children are involved, it becomes a little more complicated and a lot more important.  Finding the right caregivers, navigating hangovers and keeping things out of reach and sight of your kids are just some of the things you might want to consider.  

We asked Amy* and Jessica*, who work with mothers who use substances, a few questions about how parents or caregivers can keep their kids and themselves safer when using substances and what’s important to consider. Here’s what they had to say.  

1. Choose your babysitter 

Whether you’re using legal substances (like alcohol), or illegal ones, your ability to meet your child’s needs when you are intoxicated or withdrawing is likely to be compromised.  

One option would be to employ professional nannying and babysitting services such as Karitane nurses. As far as specialist services go, a few family-friendly addictions support services exist. If you are interested in finding out more, calling the AOD helpline will connect you with someone who can point you in the direction of appropriate services in your area.  

When choosing a babysitter for your child, the first consideration is ensuring they are safe and sober. The babysitter being sober is important to ensure they can tend to your child’s needs, respond to any emergencies, and keep your child company while you are using.  

“There’s lots of considerations, not just having a safe sober person, but [thinking about] who that is. We also talk about, it’s not safe, sober-ish. It’s sober,” Amy says. “Sometimes people go ‘Oh, they’re not using as much as the rest of the people in the house’, which is not something that we recommend, particularly with young babies.” 

A second consideration when picking someone to look after your kid is the babysitter’s age. In New Zealand, a babysitter must be at least 14 years of age. If you choose a younger babysitter, evaluate and plan for their caring abilities. “If they are 14,” says Amy, “and a medical emergency happened, what would happen then? Do they know who to call? Because they can’t drive.”  

Your babysitter’s skill level should be appropriate for your child’s needs. “A three-month-old baby’s going to need a much more skilled person than say a 12-year-old,” says Amy.  

“It’s important to be thoughtful about that person and their level of skill in attending to your children.”                                             

2. Plan for the hangover  

Another important part of organising safe and sober care for your kids is considering the day after your drug use. “We all know as parents that parenting unfortunately doesn’t stop,” says Jessica. “So, if the next day you’re going to need to be in bed all day, are they [the babysitter] able to still attend [your child]?” Plan ahead – depending on what substance you’ve used and how much you’ve taken, you may need a few hours to recover, or a whole day.                                                                  

3. Out of sight and out of reach  

When you are using, you should ensure your substances or utensils are kept high in locked cupboards and not accessible to toddlers or small children. If your child accidentally takes a substance and you are concerned, you can call the National Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766. If it is urgent, call 111.                                                                                                                           

4. Consider the company you keep  

If you’re having people at your house who are using substances, be mindful that you know and trust them to be in your home and around your children, and are confident that they will behave appropriately.                                                                                

5. Ask for help if you need it 

Amy acknowledges that there’s a lot of taboo around talking about substance use in parenting. Many parents use substances, but some mothers can find accessing support difficult. “Mothers are quite harshly judged in the health system, particularly those that use substances, and there’s a big fear of Oranga Tamariki being involved,” she says.    

“I understand why people wouldn’t try and access services to get support because of that fear but hopefully substance use is being… seen as a health issue, that people need support and a hand to help them out rather than to be judged or punitive.”  

Jessica adds, “Even just having the courage to seek support and think about how you can do [substances] safely is the ultimate goal, that’s the number one. Having the courage to ask for support or some tips if you need to. Not being afraid to ask for help. If ever emergency situations arose or something happened while you were using, if you contact the right people and ask for help, that’s you being the best parent you can be.”  

Nearly all parents take drugs from time to time, whether it be alcohol, tobacco, or something illicit. Amy reminds us that doing substances doesn’t stop you being a good parent. 

“It doesn’t preclude you from being a good parent if you are using substances, particularly if you are doing it in a safe way and considering your children. Its when that’s not part of the equation, that difficulties arise. If you can still hold them in mind and use substances, that’s all we can ask for really.”  

Where to find help 

Alcohol and Drugs Helpline  - To assist anyone with questions or concern about their own or someone else’s drinking or other drug use. 0800 787 797 

Healthline – speak to a registered nurse 24/7 - 0800 358 5453. 

Māori Helpline – Kaupapa Māori support - 0800 787 798, text 8681 


*Names have been changed to keep them anonymous

Photo by Dvir Adler on Unsplash

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