'I would rather die'

Four years ago, Mali (not her real name) was a 30-year-old mother of two children, ages 11 and seven, and a drug addict. She was living on the streets of Jerusalem, after her landlord evicted her because she couldn't pay the rent. The social services department in charge of her case had informed her that if she did not get into, and stay in, a drug detoxification and rehabilitation program, they would have no choice other than to take her seven-year-old daughter away from her. Mali threatened to kill herself. She said at the time, "In my worst moments, I always think about her. She is the reason I stay alive and try to rescue myself. If they take her from me, what will keep me alive?" Zippi (not her real name) was Mali's social worker. Speaking with Mali's permission, due to professional confidentiality, she said at the time that this was precisely the reason that Mali was about to lose her child. "A child is not a reason to stay alive. A child has a life and the right to exist in his or her own right, not as a tool to obtain advantages or a point to one's life," Zippi said. She then added, "Time and time again, Mali has promised that she is clean and then we found out that she is still taking drugs." Mali saw things differently. "I have tried very hard to get out of this situation. But I can't do it without help. I need some help, with the rent, with my rehabilitation program, with my child - they expect me to help myself by myself, and of course I fail," she cried. "And then they will take my little girl. I will never let them take her from me. I'd rather die." In the end, Mali's little girl was sent to a foster family for nearly a year. Mali was permitted supervised visits, and, with the help of therapy and devoted social workers, she was able to successfully complete a detoxification and rehabilitation program. The child was returned to her mother and placed in an extended day program to make things easier for both of them. The boy was sent to a boarding school. At the time, Mali was in no position to oppose the social workers. Today, Mali is still struggling, but she remains drug-free and holds a low-level job. Supported by social services, she cares for her daughter. But she has little contact with her son, who remains angrily estranged from his mother. "It still hurts," Mali says about her son. "It will always hurt. But I guess as adults, we pay for the mistakes we make in our lives."