Bonnie Holmes says all parents who abuse drugs or alcohol are abusing their children. So she hopes a new statewide campaign linking drug abuse to child abuse, called "Beat Your Habit -- Not Your Kid," will show people that neglect and emotional abuse of children, caused by parents' addiction, can be just as damaging.
"I just don't want people to think if you're not actually beating your kid, you're not abusing them," she said. "Whenever you use a mind-altering drug or drink, you're putting your children in a life-threatening situation."
State officials have assured her these themes will be part of the campaign.
Ms. Holmes knows what she's talking about.
For 10 years, while abusing drugs almost daily, said the Severna Park mother of two, she neglected her older child -- now 18 -- and often put her in danger.
"I never physically abused her," she said. "But we're talking about filling up a room with [marijuana] smoke with a baby there. We're talking about leaving pills around, and she swallows a handful and has to have her stomach pumped."
Because Ms. Holmes found it hard to hold a job, she and her daughter moved frequently. "By the time she was in second grade, she had been in four elementary schools," Ms. Holmes said. "When I went out, I'd leave her with anybody. Or I'd leave her alone."
Ms. Holmes said her other child Keith, 6, was born after she quit drugs and has not suffered as his sister did.
Ms. Holmes, 36, agreed to tell her story -- and become a speaker for the campaign if organizers want her -- to hammer home the point that substance abusers are guilty of child abuse.
"With any addict, the addict's needs come first, not the child's. That's just the way it is," said Ms. Holmes, who said she has been drug-free for eight years.
Calvin Street, the state's program manager for drug initiatives and director of the "Beat Your Habit" campaign, said materials developed for the project will cover neglect and emotional abuse, as well as physical and sexual abuse.
"Bonnie talked to me about this at a meeting, and we agree that people must be made aware of the psychological abuse and neglect, as well as physical and sexual abuse," he said.
National statistics, Mr. Street said, indicate that substance abuse is a factor in 60 percent to 90 percent of the 2.5 million cases of child abuse reported each year.
The campaign, announced Dec. 2, will promote awareness through public service announcements, print ads and billboard displays. Maryland is one of 20 states selected by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to develop educational campaigns. The state received a two-year, $200,000 grant to develop educational materials.
The campaign will be launched in earnest after Jan. 1.
Ms. Holmes said she is still dealing with the emotional wounds inflicted on her daughter. "There's a lot of stuff between us. She still has a lot of anger," she said.
"It causes a lot of insecurities," said her daughter, Monica Thompson, now a freshman at Towson State University. "I'd wake up in the middle of the night and no one would be there. That's really hard for a child," she said.
As part of the campaign, Parents Anonymous, a self-help support group, will operate a hot line for parents seeking help. Call (410) 243-7337.