Get treatment or keep kids? Addicted moms shouldn't have to choose, says doctor
Proposed facility would house 2 dozen women with young children for stays of at least 6 months
A Kingston, Ont., family doctor is pushing the province to support a proposed facility that would allow women trying to get treatment for addiction and substance abuse to bring their young children with them.
Mothers trying to get treatment shouldn't have to choose between getting better and keeping their kids, according to Dr. Adam Newman. But for most treatment programs across Canada, Newman said that's exactly what mothers are forced to do.
"Treatment means being separated from one's family," Newman told CBC Radio's All in a Day Wednesday.
"Sometimes that's a good thing for people in dysfunctional relationships or living in chaos, but in the case of a woman caring for young children, that's a non-starter," Newman said.
Mothers with addiction issues will often go to great lengths to conceal it rather than risk having their children taken into custody, he said.
Stays of 6 months or longer
Even for those mothers who are able to find a home for their child while they seek help, the separation often undermines the treatment, he said, with some mothers leaving early to be with their kids and those who complete the program more likely to relapse.
The experience of Portage says to anyone who is paying attention and anyone who cares, 'Why would you do anything different?'- Dr. Adam Newman
Newman's proposed Kingston House of Recovery for Women and Children is modelled after Portage's Mother and Child program in Montreal, where women live together for at least six months and are allowed to bring children under the age of six (under school age).
The women live as a community, with dedicated programming and treatment but also shared household duties. Not surprisingly, said Newman, those who have studied the program find the women to be enthusiastic about it and that they have lower relapse rates.
And their children, who often fall further behind developmentally when separated from their parents, tend to catch up when by their mother's side during treatment, he said.
"The experience of Portage says to anyone who is paying attention and anyone who cares, 'Why would you do anything different?'" Newman said.
"Why would you ever expect a woman to get better if you make her separate from her child?"
There is no equivalent in Ontario, and Newman said there should be.
He is working to get a six- to eight-month pilot project going but also fundraising to create a facility capable of housing 24 women and a maximum of two children each.
His group is seeking charitable status but still needs to raise more than $4 million to build the facility, as well as money from the province to pay for the cost of sending women there.
The project has support from Kingston and the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala and municipal leaders, but he said it will need much more to get off the ground.
"There's a lot of will in Kingston, but we need political will and financial assistance from government," he said.