San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rehab Center for Kids Planned

A 16-year-old recovering crack and glue addict sayshe wouldn’t mind being locked up for a few months ina publicly funded drug-treatment center for children.Although none exists, the government recentlyannounced plans to open the country’s first such centerby the middle of this year.The boy, who withheld his name, lives at Hogarde Paz, a private, Catholic treatment center andsoup kitchen in downtown San José that providesshelter to 23 recovering addicts, including the boyand two other minors. The 16-year-old sniffed glueand smoked crack and marijuana since he was 12,he told The Tico Times, and was convicted of robberybefore he voluntarily entered the center fortreatment.HE is one of an estimated 1,000 children in CostaRica addicted to drugs, many of whom live on thestreets, according to Vice-Minister of Public HealthDelia Villalobos. All could be candidates for the state runchildren’s addiction-treatment center in the works.The center, which would be the only drug rehabilitationcenter under the auspices of the government,and Costa Rica’s first program for children, has a projectedopening date of Aug. 5.Public Health Ministry officials announced theproposed center last month at a Cabinet meeting withPresident Abel Pacheco. They said they plan to makeinitial purchases and contracts for the center thismonth.CHILDREN ages 12-18 with drug problems couldstay as long as four months in the center. Experts will treat them for addiction and help give themjob skills to keep them on the wagon andprovide alternatives to drugs and crime.“The fundamental goal of the centerwill be detoxification, treatment and rehabilitation,and social reinsertion for boysand girls with drug problems and behaviorthat causes them a degree of physical, mentaland social detriment,” Villalobos said.Children who brush with the law as aresult of their addictions would be orderedto serve time in treatment in the center.Others could enter voluntarily.THE proposed center is an interdisciplinaryeffort between the Ministry ofPublic Health, the Child Welfare Office(PANI), the Costa Rican Drug Institute andInstitute of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse(IAFA), which will build the center on aplot beside its facility in San Pedro, east ofSan José.The Ministry of Public Works andTransport (MOPT) has offered assistancewith construction, and the Social SecuritySystem (Caja) has offered pharmaceuticalsupplies and the services of specialists towhich IAFA does not otherwise have access.Part of the funding and technical supportcould come from the United Nationsthrough a fund directed at reducing crimeand combating drug addiction.“THEY (the United Nations) areattempting to make all of Central Americawork with Costa Rica’s model. Costa Ricawould become the leader in this project,”Villalobos said.The preliminary construction budget isnearly ¢375 million ($822,000). ThePublic Health Ministry is seeking approvalfor funds for the cost of training specialists,Villalobos said.Services the center would offer includea medical and psychological clinic, a socialwork office, a nurses’ station, therapy, dormitoriesfor as many as 60 children andstaff, and a recreation area.NOW, street children with drug problemswho come under the care of the ChildWelfare Office are sent to a national hospitalfor detoxification, if necessary, then theyspend a few days in a children’s shelter untilthey can be placed in a private addiction treatmentcenter, either one of the facilitiesof Hogar Crea or the Salvation Army. Thegovernment pays half of the cost of treatmentfor the children it places.Child Welfare authorities aided 651homeless children throughout the countryin 2004, and 99% of them had or haveproblems with drugs, Minister of ChildWelfare Rosalia Gil told The Tico Times.Gil said the proposed center is the resultof a year’s efforts to create such a service,and she congratulated IAFA’s initiative.LUIS Alberto Carranza, director ofHogar de Paz, said prevention is one of themost important things the government cando to tackle the addiction problem. Some40-50 children with drug problems visit hiscenter daily, he said. Workers, who includethose who live there and receive treatment,feed the visitors, hand out clothing and talkand pray with them about their lifestylesand try to help them change.The government center is needed, hesaid.“I’m content because I see that God isin control and more people are becomingconcerned with this problem (of drugaddiction).”IAFA Director Marta Escalante agreesprevention should be part of the program tocombat addiction.“WE are also visualizing this center asa center of prevention, not only of treatment,”she said. “We want to makealliances with other organizations to help(the children) become productive citizens.”Part of the process of re-insertion intosociety after several months spent in theconfines of the center would be job training,possibly with the National TrainingInstitute (INA) or non-governmental organizations,Escalante said.“The (private) centers that exist nationallyhave another focus, a focus on adultsor not specifically on children,” Escalantesaid. “But this center will respond to thecharacteristics of the child. That is the difference.”

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