From the news desk

Removal of MPlain siblings highlights need for support for children of drug addicts

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By Tauhierah Salie

The Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre (CTDCC) has expressed concern over the lack of “child-minding services” for parents being treated for substance abuse. It follows the recent discovery of three siblings, under the age of seven, whose parents had locked them in a wendy house allegedly to go on a drug binge.

The Social Development Department had investigated the case after being alerted to a Facebook post by a concerned neighbour, Delmaine Samuels. In the video, the children are seen dirty and crying and according to Samuels, were left hungry in the dark shack.

The neighbour is believed to be witness to how the eldest son, aged seven, was forced to take care of his younger siblings, aged three years and three months old, while their mother would leave to do drugs.

The department had removed the children from the Rocklands residence and Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez confirmed that they had been “temporarily placed in a place of safety while the investigation continues.”.

Director of CTDCC, Ashley Potts, explained that these occurrences are not uncommon on the Cape Flats. He pointed to the issue of “binge” drugging which usually puts a user at greater risk of developing an addiction.

“The sad part of it is that it’s not an uncommon scenario- the likelihood of users going out to use and leaving their kids unattended. The role of the community is critical in this regard, in their observing of this and bringing attention to it because the child suffers at the end of the day.”

“Many times, the family that they drop them (off) the family is unaware. And when they drop them there is often a clear intention to either go partying or binge using.”

Although it is unclear what substances the parents are using; Potts identified dagga, methamphetamines (TIK) and heroin, as the three most common drugs in South Africa ‘at the moment’.

Drug use in South Africa

According to South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU), cannabis and alcohol are the substances most likely to be abused.

Males over the age of 20 are the biggest abusers of alcohol while male youths are the main abusers of cannabis. It’s estimated that up to 60% of crimes committed involve the use of substances and 80% of male youth deaths are alcohol-related. South Africa also has a rate of foetal alcohol syndrome which is 5 times that of the United States.

The SACENDU project reported in July last year, that while 8 787 people were admitted to treatment in 2016, a spike to 10 047 was experienced in 2017. This indicated an increase in drug use.

According to a website that deals with drug use and rehabilitation, people who don’t drug ‘consistently’ mistakenly think they won’t become addicted. Binge drug use is considered to be ‘when a person consumes a large quantity of drugs in a relatively short time.’

Even if people go through periods of time where they are sober or abstain from using any drugs; when they do use them, it can yet be extremely harmful and dangerous.

This is particularly concerning on the Cape Flats where the high rate of drug smuggling by gangsters allows drugs to be readily available. There have also been growing concerns of drug use among youth, following “creative” new trends such as consuming “lean” whereby children as young as 13 were found mixing codeine with cooldrink to get ‘high’.

Several protests were held in 2018 and 2019, against government’s failure to act on the socio-economic challenges faced by poorer communities.This includes issues related to unemployment, housing, high crime and murder rates, over crowded schools, under-resourced institutions and impeding gangsterism.


Potts emphasized that education is of utmost importance, not only for parents but for on-lookers who can identify and report neglect.

“We need to bring more to the responsibilities of the community and rights of the children,” exclaimed Pots.

“The family, neighbours, community that sees this needs to know that they have recourse to report it to the department. Many people call and say, “I don’t want to make trouble, I don’t want to get the mother in trouble.”

“But the need to look more at the need of the child and not just the need of the parent or the person using. The child’s safety and well-being should take precedent. “

Potts cited Chapter 3 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, which deals with parental responsibilities and rights.

 “Parents need to understand that the Children’s Act is very clear and leaving children unattended has obvious risks and dangers to them. They would also face losing their children or having their children removed like in this case. And no parent wants that, but the using is critical and the facing of the fact that they are dependent on (a) substance needs to be addressed. “

According to a law website, the term “child abandonment” is broadly categorized and used to describe a variety of behaviours. Although details are circumstantial, common actions can warrant formal charges.

The website explained that the following is considered “child abandonment”

  • Leaving a child with another person without provision for the child’s support and without meaningful communication with the child for a period of three months;
  • Making only minimal efforts to support and communicate with a child;
  • Failing for a period of at least six months to maintain regular visitation with a child;
  • Failing to participate in a suitable plan or program designed to reunite the parent or guardian with a child;
  • Leaving an infant on a doorstep, in trash cans and dumpsters, and on the side of the road;
  • Being absent from the home for a period of time that created a substantial risk of serious harm to a child left in the home;
  • Failing to respond to notice of child protective proceedings; or
  • Being unwilling to provide care, support, or supervision for the child.

Impact on children

Potts noted that leaving young children without adult supervision, at any point, is risky, particularly in the Mitchell’s Plain case.

“The obvious danger is that it was in a wendy house. The reality is anything could have happened, they’re minors. It could’ve been set alight, they could’ve burnt and not had any exit. There’s a lot of dangers to that.”

The director explained that the negligent actions by parents negatively affect children’s development.

“The psychological impacts are (also) very important to note. (Those children) have been abandoned and the parent is not aware of the danger or damage to the child. Their mind is focused on the need to use or to get their high or fix and the child is then left abandoned.”

In an article by US psychologist, coach, speaker and author, Audrey Sherman, the following are emotional difficulties commonly experienced by adult who were abandoned as children or had emotionally unavailable parents:

  • Abusive relationship
  • Anxiety Disorders or symptoms
  • Attachment Disorders
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Care-taking and Co-dependency
  • Chaotic Lifestyle
  • Clingy/needy behaviour
  • Compulsive behaviours may develop
  • Depression
  • Desperate relationships/relationships that happen too fast
  • Disturbances of mood, cannot self-regulate and experiences emotions in extreme
  • Extreme jealousy and possessiveness
  • Lack of confidence, self-esteem issue
  • May be poor at self-soothing
  • People-pleasing behaviours to detriment of self.
  • Poor coping strategies
  • Promiscuity
  • Relationship problems
  • Trust issues

Sherman is the founder/CEO of PsychSkills Consulting Group which provides information on various conditions.

Isolation vs rehabilitation

Another aspect which Potts addressed was the impact on the families of those who are addicted.

 “The reality is that if someone is using, the whole family is affected. We cannot deny or run away from this reality and the family often points to the person that is using and says, ‘it’s their problem’. Yes, they have a challenge with substance but as the family we also need to know there is a role that we can play.

The director explained that addiction is considered a medical condition.

“They have an illness and they need to be treated with health care services. We need to look at how do we  treat or provide serviceable treatment and rehabilitation for this person who is struggling with a substance.”

He noted that family members and friends have a responsibility to educate themselves as well.

“(Get) the proper knowledge and skills to be able to use words correctly and advise them correctly and support the children or minors within that context, is critical.

“They need to take the steps that is necessary. Go the nearest Department of Social development office or call the toll-free number and get the help that you (and the child) needs. “

Potts pointed to a fundamental flaw in the rehabilitation of adults with children, in that there is a lack of ‘childminding services’.

“When we shift the conversation to the client that needs assistance or treatment programmes, we often find that there is also gaps in the process. Something that we, as treatment specialists, as well as the department, need to look at is that when they come for help we do not have or provide child minding services and even in their recovery they would tend to leave there child with someone they do not know or cant trust or leave them at home unattended. “

He added that the department offers skills development workshops on the first Wednesday of every month.

“There are training and skills workshops, where we help them to understand the nature illness and the boundaries you can set to help co-erce the person into a treatment setting instead of just punishing and judging them. They have a problem; we need to help them.”

What substance abuse treatments are available?

Child abuse or neglect can be reported to the Department of Social Development, which can be contacted on: 021 447 8026

Ashley Potts : 082 887 6440


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