Child-Centered Harm Reduction
"This term, which we hope can over time be employed as a keyword in the literature, is intended to foreground children under the age of majority and for whom child rights laws apply in harm reduction theory, policy and practice. Child-centred harm reduction draws attention to the specificities of childhood in harm reduction work. Existing theories of harm reduction may need adaptation to the sociology and psychology of childhood, including the interconnected relationship between parent and child, family-centred care, and attention to children’s rights (see Maynard et al., 2019). Some interventions may not be practical, effective or ethical for children (Watson et al., 2015). Research on existing harm reduction services that work with minors – including those that may not strictly be permitted to do so - may place those children or the service at risk. Issues of consent, identity, agency and maturity, as well as the child’s ‘best interests’ may challenge the assumptions and premises upon which ‘low threshold’ harm reduction services are delivered (Barrett, Petersson, & Turner, 2022). Different legal and human rights standards are engaged, from drug laws to family law to child rights. Child protection laws may require duties of reporting that affect harm reduction service provision and research (ibid). In some cases both parent and child can be legal minors, leading to further challenges and complications regarding assessments of best interests. National, regional and international policy frameworks may need renewed scrutiny through a child-centred harm reduction lens (see for example Barrett, 2015).
"The term is not perfect. For example, ‘child’ may conjure the image of only very young children, when the majority of drug use would involve older adolescents. Few seventeen year-olds would refer to themselves as children. However, those under the age of 18 are legal minors in most contexts, and are ‘children’ for the purposes of child rights. Other terms, such as ‘youth harm reduction’ reproduce the problem of age ranges noted above, while ‘adolescent harm reduction’ omits younger children. ‘Adolescence’ can also extend beyond the age of majority. ‘Paediatric harm reduction’ was considered, but implied an overly medical approach.
"The word ‘centred’ is critical. Our view of child-centred harm reduction extends from neonates to adolescents, with all of the challenges and differing capacities and relationships that arise at these stages of development. Centring the child is key and draws our attention also, for example, to dependent children in adult harm reduction work. We believe that ‘child-centred’ focuses on the specificities of childhood in harm reduction and captures a holistic, rights-based, and person-centred approach."
Barrett, D., Stoicescu, C., Thumath, M., Maynard, E., Turner, R., Shirley-Beavan, S., Kurcevič, E., Petersson, F., Hasselgård-Rowe, J., Giacomello, C., Wåhlin, E., & Lines, R. (2022). Child-centred harm reduction. The International journal on drug policy, 109, 103857. Advance online publication. doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103857