Drug use with clients
A few weeks back someone asked about working with youth in care who attended raves, and the discussion ended unsatisfactorily for me without much being said the risks raised by the questioner. But just how common is it that drug-taking is a problem that runs alongside whatever other issues we are working on with youth? In our program I think we are ambivalent about this — sometimes it is a big deal, other times we are almost in denial or feel helpless about it. Some colleagues dismiss concerns about raves, but others find it hard to be "cool" when kids are going through very serious other issues. Just how widespread, how serious is drug-taking. How do others see it and manage it?
I live in Toronto Ontario, Canada. I am a Child and Youth worker in training and also a youth myself. I attended raves for 2 and a half years, so I can give some 'inside' information. The best thing, first off, that I would strongly recommend is that you educate yourself as much as you can on the topic if you happen to be, or think that you will be dealing with youth who are involved with 'raving'. Do not just educate yourself from the point of view of so-called 'professionals' because we all know (and I mean no disrespect whatsoever) that a lot of things are said out of misconception, ignorance, and plain fear of what isn't known.
With that said ... Thousands of youth attend raves every weekend in Toronto, with a population of approximately 3-5 million (I believe). This does not mean that all of these party-goers engage in drug-use. Many try it, and never do it again. Many do these drugs in moderation (once in a while), and many, unfortunately, become addicted and it affects their health and well being. When a youth starts going to raves, if they have been plagued with low-self esteem or personal issues, will find raves the next best thing to sliced bread, and will say they will rave for the rest of their life. Believe me, these feelings can arise with or without the drugs. What I am trying to say, is if you know of a youth that is attending these parties, please don't assume that they are doing the drugs, it'll either make them want to go more, or actually do the drugs they are being accused of ingesting. If you want to educate your youth about raves, whether they go or not, there is an organization within Toronto called TRIP, and they provide safety info to the whole rave community on sex and drugs from MDMA, Meth, Ketamine etc... I believe that the best approach is education. Making youth scared of taking these drugs often pushes them to try it even more, so they can prove that it won't kill them. Good Luck.
Let's see. I will talk to my students frankly about the dangers of drug use and how non-use is way safer than any kind of use. For those kids who are using and seem impervious to my suggesting that use is not a good idea for them (especially because many of them are on heavy medications prescribed by doctors for ADD, etc) because they are more susceptible to negative health effects, I ask what tactics they are using to be safe. Do they use condoms and other kinds of birth control when they are using when they have sex? Do they mix? How does it make them feel during and after? What are the long-term and short-term consequences of use? I believe that open and real conversations about use is important. Our youth today are fed drugs of all kinds that mess with their bodies, prescribed by doctors and sanctioned by schools parents, counselors and the media. Some of these drugs make kids feel weird and out of control and not happy. They know how their body feels, we do not. How can we tell a kid to take this little pill everyday at this certain time but don't smoke weed or take that little pill? How is that logical? It's not and so we need to converse and talk about it openly. Just saying no doesn't work anymore.
I wish that I could tell kids that doing drugs is unhealthy, but what if I use drugs recreationally? What if I go home on Friday night and go drink a couple pitchers with my pals? Or smoke cigarettes on my lunch break? Our kids are smart, they know that we use, and they also know that we are potential hypocrites when we say that this drug will help you and that drug will hurt you when we take neither. How many practitioners and doctors eat the drugs on a regular basis that they prescribe to kids? I understand that some of our students have chemical imbalances and some drugs will "help" them learn to control their behavior. So will eating fruit and drinking water. But I know at least in my country that school lunches are horridly unhealthy, full of processed sugars and carbs.
We have to look at how we are role-models for leading healthy lives. Whole-body learning lessons. Kids in my school complain about the bad lunches and lack of working water fountains or bad tasting water. But we line them up to get their Zoloft and Ritalin. Some of my students tell me that they work better, get more work done and are less reactive when they are high. They have tested this in school. But I must have them arrested if they come to school with marijuana. What are we telling our kids? Is it a clear message/ It doesn't seem so to me ...
Thanks to Charlene and Peter for replying. I understand your general views about drugs in our world. But my question was rather more specific in the sense of drug taking as a complication when we are dealing with a particular client. We are often working with really difficult to manage youths, making what we think are careful and sensible child and youth care decisions day to day ... and alongside this process we also know that he or she is using. The using adds to risky and destructive behavior on the one hand, and offers the youth an alternative to having to work at what we are trying on the other hand. It doesn't seem enough to say "Oh well, kids do that" when the stakes are so high and we are meant to be helping with serious problems. Also we can't lock the boy up in a room to prevent him using — we try to keep them going to school, participating, etc. I think this is the conflict I am needing help with. I really would like to hear how others manage with this.
Replying to Margaret on the drug issue ...
Margie, just remember that no matter what 'we know is best' for young people, this ultimately is not our decision nor our right to influence, instead we must accept what they choose. The role we play is to best inform the client of the choices available to choose from. A worker will soon become disheartened and tired, if disappointed at the clients 'wrong' decision. It may be wrong and unwise to us but we disempower the client if we do not accept and then support their choices — look more at your role as providing safe environments, education, positive role modeling etc, rather than trying to 'save' these kids — they will only resent you for this.
Michelle Ann Mayes