We all want the best for children and young people. We want to see them in safe housing, in school and doing well. However, where drugs are being used in harmful ways, including through injecting, harm reduction services play a crucial protective role in ensuring that unnecessary harm from drug use will not prevent or damage the longer term development of the child.
As harm reduction service providers, the first time we reflect on these complex issues is often when we are first presented with a child in need. In this situation we are required to quickly balance the legal, ethical, clinical and protection issues involved:
●● We may not be able to test for HIV under a certain age, even if we suspect that a child or young person may have HIV.
●● We might know that drug use in our society is controversial, and worry about the political and legal problems with providing services to children and young people.
●● We may fear personal attack from people who don’t agree with our work.
●● We might work in a country that has age restrictions on certain harm reduction services.
●● We may face personal challenges, such as not understanding the scale of the problem among young drug users.
●● We may feel morally or ethically ambivalent, or perhaps even feel morally and ethically certain about the inappropriateness of children and young people who inject drugs.
Taking a reactive approach to these questions leaves us with little room for consultation, exploring options, preparing ourselves or our organisation, and can leave us making rushed decisions with inadequate information.
A proactive approach will ensure your organisation is prepared and allow you to feel confident that you will provide the best service for the children and young people and that you have considered the implications for clients, individual staff and the organisation as a whole.
The aim of this toolkit is to help you move to a more proactive approach. By working through the following steps your organisation can explore how prepared it currently is to support children and young people, and from there can develop policies and procedures for working with children and young people who inject.