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Children of Drug Abusers

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:54 pm on 16th September 2004.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:54 pm, 16th September 2004

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-1306, in the name of Trish Godman, on the children of drug abusers.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the widespread incidence in Scotland of children whose parents misuse drugs and who, as a result, suffer diminished lives in all kinds of ways; believes that such children, many of whom are infants, require comprehensive care by those concerned with the protection of vulnerable families, and considers that the Scottish Executive, social work departments and other interested parties should adopt healthcare programmes that will ensure that such young citizens escape the blighting of their lives brought about by parents who are themselves in need of treatment and support.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I wonder whether, like me, others in this room spend quite a lot of time asking themselves why they are keen to do a job that most people criticise at the drop of a hat, telling us that they could do it much better than we can but being quite happy to let us do it anyway. Sometimes, however, we come across an issue that we think we might be able to do something about and which causes us to think that we might just be able to bring about a change that will help people's lives. Perhaps that is why we are here. That is the substance of the motion that I have lodged for this debate. If we cannot help children of drug abusers, we have to ask ourselves why we are here.

In Glasgow, at a conservative estimate, there are between 15,000 and 20,000 children who are affected by parental drug abuse. Throughout Scotland, the estimated number is 52,000. It is estimated that 60 per cent of drug users have children and that 46 per cent of them have children who still live with them. It is clear that there is a wide range of figures about the number of kids in such circumstances. For example, in Inverclyde, which my colleague Duncan McNeil and I represent—he represents the Inverclyde constituency and I represent Port Glasgow—the number of cases allocated to social work amount to 307. That is 307 too many, but it is also not an accurate figure because it does not include voluntary organisations or the children who are not put in touch with any kind of organisation.

What public services look after the children of drug abusers? The first service that springs to mind is social work—a much-maligned profession, as my colleague Scott Barrie and I know only too well. There are also projects such as those that are run by the Aberlour Child Care Trust, which looks after children and their parents in a residential setting and through community outreach. There are also the drug action teams, and in Port Glasgow there is a specialist clinic that is involved in primary care services. In Greenock, in Duncan McNeil's constituency, there is an early-intervention short, sharp detox programme for young people who are just starting down the road of drug abuse.

What does it mean to be the child of a drug abuser? One of the first children with whom I had to deal when I was a social worker suffered from foetal alcohol syndrome. That meant that he had a small, wizened face and pointed ears. Just before I gave up social work, I worked at the Inverclyde royal hospital and the Glasgow royal infirmary with the mothers of children who were going cold turkey from heroin withdrawal. That is not a pretty sight; it is not nice to see a three-week-old child shaking, screaming, crying and suffering from sickness and diarrhoea—with a look of absolute terror on its face—because the mother has been using heroin or other drugs throughout her pregnancy. What does that sort of experience do for those kids when they get older? They are withdrawn, sometimes they are aggressive, they have no confidence, they are socially isolated and they perform poorly at school. They are also more likely to take drugs. It is easy to see why: at home, when there is a problem, their parents take a drug—including alcohol—and the problem, amazingly, is solved. The children then think that it is a good idea to take a drug to solve their problems. At home, the children are neglected and made to feel second to drugs.

There are questions that we must address, as must the relevant agencies. When do we intervene? When we intervene, how can we sustain our intervention in the long term? Do we focus on the child or on the user? Should we intervene and encourage drug users to use contraception? I remind members of my description of what a child going cold turkey looks like. If we intervene in that way, however, how far do we go? What about people's civil liberties?

I believe that we are right to support methadone programmes, but we do not have enough of them. We do not provide enough support for people who are coming off drugs.

All of us know of grandparents in our constituencies who look after children who have drug-using parents. Families and communities are starting to adjust to this massive problem and grandparents and aunts and uncles are taking children in. The minister will tell us that the Executive is doing something about the problem, and he will be quite right. However, I wonder whether provision is appropriate or adequate; I honestly do not think that it is.

There are no clear statistics on children of drug-abusing parents. There are estimates of 52,000 such children across Scotland and 300 or so in Inverclyde. The Executive is undertaking a scoping exercise to consider all the available research and data. That is good, but if the results show the high numbers that we expect, we in the Parliament will have to be prepared to put our money where our mouths are and finance appropriate services. Core packages must reflect the whole problem during and after drug misuse, and I believe that it is appropriate for services to be local.

Last week, Jack McConnell said:

"there will be further legislation to protect and support Scotland's children"—[Official Report, 7 September 2004; c 9873.]

No one would disagree with that. If we can make a change, we should, but I stood four years ago at the Mound and had exactly the same debate. It was instigated by reading on the front page of the Daily Record that a five-year-old boy who was new to school had taken a package to his teacher and said to her, "Take this, because it is making my mummy sick." It was her £5 bag of heroin. Sadly, there are many children out there who could say exactly the same thing today.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 5:01 pm, 16th September 2004

I sincerely congratulate Trish Godman on her motion, to which she spoke with understated emotion and a great deal of experience. When we talk about misuse of drugs, we are also talking about drink and about a cocktail of the two. Trish Godman eloquently described what happens to children whose parents are substance misusers.

I have looked at the Government's good practice guidance for working with children and families and I agree with much of it. One document states:

"It is not sufficient to protect children from the serious risks associated with parental substance misuse. It is important to provide for the wider needs of the child".

It also states something that we must recognise:

"Not all problems can be solved, and no single worker can solve them alone."

Another quotation is very telling:

"Reaching the children is very difficult. The children who say least are of most concern ... Children in need are likely to include children of parents who have problems associated with their use of either drugs or alcohol or both, and young people who provide care and support for parents who misuse drugs or alcohol, often termed 'young carers'."

A destructive cycle will happen in those families.

I will focus on young carers—we have had a debate on the matter before. As Trish Godman said, the statistics are not accurate and the true picture is much larger than they suggest. In an answer to Rhona Brankin on 8 January this year, Tom McCabe said that there are 16,701 young carers, but I believe that that is the tip of an enormous iceberg.

The Health Committee had a presentation from young carers from Golspie, who performed a dramatised narrative about various circumstances in which young carers find themselves. There is no doubt that, with the innocence of youth, they were portraying some of their own experiences. We had a young girl who was looking after the rest of the family while her mother drank herself silly and treated the girl as the mother of the family.

The knock-on effect of children dealing with parents with drug and alcohol problems, apart from their exposure to violence and deprivation, is that those young people become isolated and introverted. They miss school or misbehave at school; the teachers misunderstand what they are saying and think that they are naughty children because they have not done their homework and they fall asleep. They are bullied by other children at school because they are different. Of course they are different—children who are as young as seven or eight are acting like little adults and little heroes.

Apart from the fact that it was difficult for those children to come out and express what was happening, because they felt that that would betray their parents, it is clear that some of them felt that it was their fault that mummy or daddy was drinking or taking drugs. We have to ensure that there is a conduit for such children that they feel is safe and confidential and that is a first contact point for the other agencies, so that the children can express the fact that something is wrong. That is why I welcome the national forum for young carers. I know that it sounds heavy handed, but there has to be a contact point that these young people can use of their own volition so that they can gently be brought in—in some cases, that has to be done very gently—and cared for.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 5:05 pm, 16th September 2004

I congratulate Trish Godman on bringing an important issue to our attention. We have heard about the iceberg effect: we see the tip of it, but we do not see its depth. Those of us who have worked in social work, in community pharmacy—as in my case—or in medicine know very well that one notices the pattern of a child who comes in regularly and who has a major problem at home. We cannot separate the misuse of drugs from the misuse of alcohol and the cocktail of the two that Christine Grahame talked about.

Even if we had them, the statistics would be only the start. That fact that leaps out at me is that we do not have co-ordinated systems to deal with addictive problems in the round. We manage to come in only when there is a crisis, whether it involves the police being called out to a domestic incident, a fire in a home or somebody turning up at accident and emergency. We have to ensure that, if the children are going to school, teachers have the support to spot problems and to understand what is going on. In the old days, form masters would pick up early on what was going on in their group. That may sound old fashioned, but we need to have joined-up thinking.

I do not knock the Executive in particular. For generations, Governments have tinkered at the edges, but in this Parliament we need to take the matter seriously. Whether because of nutritional issues, lack of schooling or outrageous behaviour, it is vital that we pick up cases of addiction in children—never mind the horrors of the babies who are born with addiction. Why are we not intervening earlier? It is standard practice in this country to screen women for infection and bodily function when they become pregnant. Why do maternity services not automatically screen in the interests of the child who is on the way? Nobody has addressed that issue. I do not know what the national health service thinks about that, but medics tell us what the problems are. People in children's hospitals are moved by some of the things that they see. We need to have balanced intervention and joined-up action.

Trish Godman talked about detox for the child. The issue with detox—whether for alcohol or drugs in an adult, adolescent or baby—is that it is not enough; there must be rehabilitation. People cannot be placed back in the same risk circumstances. That requires joined-up thinking and interaction.

I hope that the report "Hidden Harm" will not just be dealt with by the justice committees. I am concerned that in this Parliament we have chosen to deal with drug addiction solely as a law and order issue. There is far more to it than that. It is an interagency problem and the Parliament should deal with it on that basis.

"Hidden Harm" refers to a number of issues, but not enough is said about advocacy for children who are victims of drug misuse. We have drug action teams, but what is their role in this field? I think that they are confused about their role.

It is important that we involve the voluntary sector, which has been mentioned. We need to build an interagency statistical database that takes in the voluntary sector, education and so on. We cannot go on saying that people have a right to confidentiality in everything that they do. That should not apply when somebody else is affected. If we do anything at all in this Parliament, we must take care of the children of Scotland.

Nobody has mentioned the mental health problems that the children develop. The problem is enormous. It is not just that the children are erratic because they are undernourished or have used drugs; the problem is long term. The only way of dealing with it is to take action on a joined-up basis. My party would be willing to participate in anything we can do to move that forward.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat 5:09 pm, 16th September 2004

The issue is extremely serious, but we know little about it. It will be difficult for us ever to have exact statistics on the number of vulnerable children who are affected by their parents' drug addiction. I believe that the figures of 40,000 to 60,000 that I have been mentioned are a gross underestimate. As has been mentioned, chronic alcohol misuse in Scotland is a more serious and widespread problem. We are talking about more than 0.25 million chronic misusers of alcohol and probably about 300,000 to 400,000 children who live with parents who are alcoholics.

The statistics cannot do justice to the lifelong damage that is done to those children. It is impossible to repair such damage, although some surmount it, such as the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who came from a highly addictive family. He has been open about the various compulsive-obsessive behaviours, as they are medically called, of his parents, his brother and others in his family. The late Duke of Devonshire, who died last month, headed a family that was well known for what was called the Cavendish disease—alcoholism. We are talking about a disease that often runs in families. We need to study it far more—not just at the aristocratic end of the scale, although that might be the more visible end. We need to study it right across the board.

I know that the Executive has published guidance on "Getting Our Priorities Right—Good Practice Guidance for Working With Children and Families Affected by Substance Misuse". Our priorities are to deal with the children of alcohol or drug misusers. The scope of the discussion needs to be broadened, because both sets of children are vulnerable. Indeed, in the home of an alcoholic, a child might be more likely to suffer domestic violence. Intervention needs to be early. Too often, intervention happens only at the crisis stage. Another problem is that the addict might be reluctant to seek support in case he or she—or both parents—lose custody of the children.

The situation has to be dealt with sensitively, because it might well be in the children's interests not to go into care but to continue to be cared for by their parents, even when those parents have serious drug problems, provided that there is sufficient support.

That is where the role of certain individuals is crucial. For example, general practitioners are important for people undergoing methadone treatment; they see addicts regularly. Nurses in accident and emergency departments see people who have come in because of an overdose, because they are the victims of violence or because they have collapsed in the street. Similarly, social workers, housing staff, voluntary organisation workers and teachers might be the first to detect a problem. That cab help to build an information base through which addicts can be contacted, which will enable them to be offered counselling, family therapy, parenting and coping skills and the help of family support groups.

The role of grandparents is important, particularly in relation to the children of drug misusers. I remember meeting grandparents with Margaret Curran when she was convener of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee and we were undertaking our inquiry into drug misuse in deprived communities. The role of carer is often left to grandparents and we have to consider ways of supporting them far more. Praise should be given to Al-Anon, which is the sister organisation to Alcoholics Anonymous and which does much work with the families of alcoholics.

I have given just an indication of what we need to do. However, it is often through the voluntary sector and the individuals whom I have mentioned that we can help to build up the support networks that addicts so badly need, whatever they are addicted to.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 5:13 pm, 16th September 2004

I add my congratulations to Trish Godman on bringing such an important debate to the chamber. I pick up on one of the points that she made early in her speech about the lack of knowledge despite the certainty that there are many children out there—perhaps thousands—whom we do not know about.

I make the first of a series of pleas to the Executive for extra help, this time for ChildLine Scotland. The organisation is effective, but it estimates that it cannot answer between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the calls that it receives. In other words, children are desperate to use the facility, but they cannot always get through.

During my time on the children's panel, we had—and still have—the mantra that everything should be done and every decision should be made in the interests of the child. It is becoming increasingly apparent that when it comes to the children of drug abusers, many of whom are also carers—I will pick up on that point in a moment—it would be useful for children's panels to have extra powers, to enable them to give assistance to the parents rather than just to make decisions in the interests of the child. In other words, the panels would end up being family panels rather than just children's panels. Perhaps the Executive would like to address that issue. I know that there is discussion about it at the moment.

I, too, attended the very moving presentation by the young carers from Golspie to which Christine Grahame referred. From that presentation, it was apparent that the peer groups that children set up more or less by themselves, with some help from outside, are extremely effective. They really work and do an enormous amount for the young people concerned—more than any consultation with an adult could ever do. Children can give one another very special support. Anything that the Executive can do to sow the seeds for groups such as that in Golspie, by providing the adults and services that are needed to establish them around the country, would make a significant difference.

I move on to the kinds of service that children's panels would like to have available as disposals. I mention the work of the Aberlour Child Care Trust and its two houses, one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. I want to reflect on one woman's thoughts about Brenda House in Edinburgh. Brenda House offers services to only six people—given the figures that we face, we need many more such houses. It offers young mothers intensive detoxification for three weeks and then all the supports that they need to get off drugs. It offers them those services with their children—mothers and young children are taken in at the same time.

The woman in the case to which I refer went in with a four-year-old. She says that even after three weeks she was able to

"help another woman in small practical ways".

She mentions the benefits of having her child with her throughout her 13-month stay. She says:

"She was a constant reminder of why I was there", and that

"I certainly would have found it more difficult to clean up my act if she'd gone into foster care."

The space that Brenda House gives its resident families—up to six—also helped her. She says that she and her daughter

"shared a top flat with our own bedroom, living-room and bathroom", and that

"That space together was so important because when you're coming off drugs you feel really raw and really scared so you don't want strangers around you."

What has Brenda House done for her other than getting her into detox? She says that

"they have helped me believe in myself".

That feeling is reflected in many other people who have been through the programme. They are in Brenda House for a long time—12 to 13 months, and sometimes longer—but they come out believing in themselves. It costs money and I know that it will put a further strain on social services, but such help must continue. The woman whose case I have cited sees a link worker once a fortnight. In other cases, there is weekly counselling to help people to survive in the outside world.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 5:18 pm, 16th September 2004

I, too, congratulate Trish Godman, as today's debate is welcome. All of those present in the chamber are well aware of the serious nature of this problem and of its importance for the protection of children.

I will not go over the statistics that other members have cited. In fact, I would like to begin by being a little anecdotal, if members do not mind. For me, the debate is timely, because last week I heard that a young mother in the community from which I come, whose children I taught at one time, had just had her life support machine switched off. She was suffering from septicaemia as a result of serious drug abuse. She leaves about five children, whose grandmother has been caring for them for a considerable time. That is just another sad reflection of the situation that exists. I am sure that similar things are happening regularly in communities throughout Scotland.

In my community of Irvine, there is a group called Mothers Against Drugs, which for four years has been campaigning to have a community-based rehab facility based in our town. Drug abuse is the scourge of our town. A group of young people is going around breaking windows, smashing up the community and causing violence. They are between the ages of 14 and 20 and they are mainly the children of drug abusers. Their way of fighting back is to go into the community and create havoc.

The young people's problem is not being picked up, so I described the scale of the issue and gave the other side of the situation. Teachers expect the young people, whose self-esteem is non-existent and who come from chaotic homes, to do their homework, but they do not have the ability to concentrate, let alone to do their homework. They suffer from bullying, and have the label "children of junkies" thrown at them all the time.

Last year, I met a support group in Stranraer called You Are Not Alone. It was made up mainly of grandparents who care for their grandchildren because of the children's parents' drug abuse. The grandparents told me of the stigma that the children suffered in school. As if that were not bad enough, the grandparents also had a problem with financial support for kinship care and appropriate support from social services. As we all know—it has been said before by me and others—there is no joined-up strategy for supporting grandparents, but that is another issue.

So many issues are involved, but the best way to protect the children of drug abusers is to treat the parents. We have to have in place strategies to ensure that babies and children in school are monitored closely and that services pull together to do that. Such strategies are important and I welcome them, but we also need to focus our minds on finding community-based support and decent rehab.

A young woman down in Irvine was refused entry to the methadone programme because she did not meet the criteria—she was not pregnant or coming out of prison, she did not have a child on a child protection register and she did not have mental health problems. She is now in a dreadful state and her mother has custody of her child. Although the child is being looked after, how much better would it have been had we been able to get her on to a programme to deal with her problems?

Let us address the need to protect children, which is paramount, but let us also focus on joined-up, community-based rehab facilities that give long-term benefit to children. The workers and the programmes exist; all they need is to be joined together. Let us move forward with the will to do that.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 5:23 pm, 16th September 2004

I thank Trish Godman for returning this issue to the Parliament following my related kinship care debate last session.

Last year's "Hidden Harm" report highlighted the needs of the children of problem drug users in Scotland and estimated that between 40,800 and 58,700 children in Scotland had a parent who was a problem drug user. As a result of the illicit nature of drug use, it is likely that those figures are underestimates, but they represent between 4 and 6 per cent of children under 16, which is double the figure in England and Wales.

The statistics are simply terrifying, but what are the individual experiences of some of those children? Drug agencies insist that parents with substance abuse problems are not necessarily bad parents, but few children brought up in the chaotic world of an addict will escape entirely unharmed. A consultant clinical psychologist who runs a drug clinic said:

"Children like predictable, stable environments, and you can't have that if mummy or daddy is being intoxicated or suffering withdrawal symptoms. The long-term consequences can be damaging for the child."

Parental drug or alcohol misuse was involved in 40 per cent of the cases that came before children's panels in 2002. Children of parents whose lives are dominated by drug misuse will have their lives also dominated by it. They endure risks such as needle injury, accidental drug consumption and threats of violence and abuse from dealers who visit the home. They also experience social deprivation, poverty and exclusion, as the parent's life becomes dominated by the search for drugs, which results in a decline in the adult's parenting capacity and the child being neglected or going without.

The instability of life in a family affected by drug abuse can lead to psychological problems in the children and personality disorders that manifest themselves in impulsive behaviour and, perhaps, self-harm. Research has shown that routine activities such as eating and sleeping become wholly unpredictable, and children whose parents are having problems finding drugs are obviously more vulnerable.

We must also bear in mind the emotional effects of parents' drug use, including the stigma of belonging to a so-called junkie family. However, the worst effect is perhaps that caused by broken promises when parents say that they will give up their addiction and then for whatever reason are unable to do so.

The "Hidden Harm" report provided us with a powerful message. I thank Professor McKeganey and his team at the centre for drug misuse for their work on the issue. The majority of agencies and services currently deal with users' problems and do not even request information about dependants. As a result, I believe that all drug treatment agencies should record data about the children of their clients and meet their needs directly or through referral to or liaison with other services.

These situations are also having an effect on the health and life expectancy of grandparents who look after grandchildren affected by this problem. We cannot imagine the effect on children of losing their grandparents after losing their own parents to a drug overdose. Indeed, grandparents have told me about the type of behaviour that their grandchildren have exhibited in their care. For example, one grandmother was appalled when her granddaughter was able to point out the house where her mummy got her "medicine".

One of our ministers knows that many Scottish local authorities are failing to meet the needs of these children and grandparents, because I facilitated a meeting between him and grandparents whose lives have been seriously changed as a result of the drug problems of their sons or daughters. This Executive is continually stating that it has an obligation to ensure the welfare of Scotland's children. I again plead with the Executive: if we cannot rid our society of drug abuse, the Executive must stop hiding behind local authorities' autonomy and do its duty by these children.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 5:28 pm, 16th September 2004

I put on record my thanks to Trish Godman for securing this debate.

It is appropriate both that we should debate this subject and that it should be a members' business debate. With some issues that we discuss and are required to address in the chamber, there is a clear and specific problem to which we know the solution. For example, with the Tenements (Scotland) Bill that we passed earlier, we were aware of the problem and have now introduced legislation that will deal with, if not all of it, then the bulk of it.

However, other problems in our society do not have such clear-cut solutions. In these cases, we know that there is a significant problem and that the ground is changing around our feet, but much of what we require to do does not simply involve legislating against drug use or dealing effectively with those who are peddling drugs. Instead, we need to address the fact that there must be a cultural change. That said, it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to legislate for a cultural change. Anyone of any political party or none who says that they know the solution to the drugs problem in our society—no matter whether we are talking about alcohol or narcotics—is either a fool or a liar. Although we must acknowledge that the problem is multifaceted, we also need a cultural change in our society in order to address it. After all, matters have moved on.

Many others have given anecdotal evidence. I live quite close to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration headquarters in Edinburgh and I know one of the major safeguarders in the administration, who told me that in the decade or so in which they have been practising, matters have moved on. For example, whereas children would come before the administration as victims of neglect or abusive parents, now they are coming as victims of parents with drug problems.

The problem has changed our whole society and we must address it. There is no magic bullet. We will have to address matters and take on board the points made by members about rehab and resources, but we have to tackle the problem.

We also have to move on from stating that it is simply a question of going to war against those who are dealing in drugs. We can go to war against drugs, but it is a war that we are losing. Nor is it simply a matter of addressing those who are part of a criminal fraternity; it goes beyond that. I am always minded of reading what Chomsky wrote about the composition of the cocaine that is sold on the streets of the United States of America. Something like 97 per cent of the ingredients of the cocaine that is sold on the streets of America are manufactured in the United States, trans-shipped to Columbia, reassembled into cocaine and sent back. The problem is not with Columbian campesinos; the problem is a societal matter within the United States.

We can go to war with Afghanis growing poppies or with Columbian campesinos doing the same, or we can address the fact that there is a societal problem that we need to tackle. It is quite correct to say that there is not just a problem with narcotics; there is also a problem with alcohol. Scotland has to take social responsibility for many of its problems. Some of those we will be able to deal with by legislation and some we will have to deal with by introducing welfare provision, whether through rehab or otherwise, but others need to be addressed by a cultural change that recognises that it is a problem that we face as a community and as individuals. We must recognise that individuals, too, have to take responsibility for their actions.

It is also important that we address the question of children. In any war there are non-combatant casualties and, in the war on drugs, the non-combatant casualties are clearly the children of those who are drug dependent or who are alcohol abusers. They did not wage war in any shape or form, but they fundamentally pay the price, either through their parents' neglect or through what happens to their parents as a result of what we as a society do to deal with their problem, whether by incarcerating them or otherwise. Unless we are prepared to address a cycle of despair, we must tackle that problem. As many have said, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Unless we address the problems of children from families that are drug or alcohol dependent, we will simply continue the cycle of delinquency and despair, and that is why the matter has to be addressed.

Some areas will no doubt be dealt with by the legislative action that the minister will comment on, but Scotland, all its politicians and all its people have to start thinking anew and start addressing a cultural malaise in our society.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 5:32 pm, 16th September 2004

Trish Godman spoke eloquently and movingly about the heartbreak that we see all too often in many communities in Scotland. It is nothing short of a tragedy to see so many children suffering so much, their lives blighted, and sometimes destroyed, when they have hardly started. Speakers such as Kenny MacAskill are right to point out the complexity of the problem that confronts us. I wish to God that there were an easy answer, so that we could simply say that by this time next year—or even, as Trish Godman said, in five years' time—we would have a solution, but we know that it is not as simple as that.

Keith Raffan, whose comments were echoed by Kenny MacAskill, was right to remind us that, although what we are debating tonight is the problem of children of drug misusers, there is still a huge and fundamental problem with alcohol abuse in Scotland. That problem blights far too many families and far too many children.

I can stand before members tonight and give some account of the extra money that we are spending and the initiatives that we are taking, and I shall do that, but I want to preface my remarks by saying that the nature of the problem is such that, no matter how much we spend, there will still be a problem before us unless, as Kenny MacAskill said, we start to confront some of the wider societal and cultural problems.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

It is difficult to have joined-up approaches to the matter, as many of the approaches have to be local. Does the minister agree that we need to share the best practice from local areas and the 22 drug and alcohol action teams much more effectively than we currently do, perhaps through annual conferences, so that good local initiatives that work can be copied throughout the country?

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

I intended to come to that point and I fundamentally agree that we need to consider good practice and persuade others to share and engage in it.

I was trying to make the point that there will always be a problem, no matter how much we spend. However, we all need to be much more rigorous—whether that is at Executive level or as individual members of the Scottish Parliament who have influence in our communities and who work with councils and voluntary organisations—in asking questions about the money that is spent in communities. What is that money achieving? How can the situation be improved?

Yesterday, during a discussion about the problem and similar matters, I heard about good initiatives that are being developed in communities and schools, such as the initiatives at Forthview Primary School and Firrhill High School, which support children and parents who abuse substances. We need to encourage much more of that good practice.

We are spending significant amounts of money and we have issued policy guidance on a range of matters. In February 2003, we issued "Getting our priorities right: Good Practice Guidance for working with Children and Families affected by Substance Misuse", which sets out our expectations of organisations that work with families in which parents or carers misuse substances—alcohol as well as drugs. The document covers some of the key issues that Trish Godman identified, such as referrals and information sharing. David Davidson spoke about the problem of exchanging information and it is critical that we try to resolve those problems, which are caused sometimes by preciousness and sometimes by a desire to hide behind legal issues—I know that Paul Martin has mentioned that in other contexts. We need to get people to work together and share information.

Trish Godman posed fundamental questions. When should we intervene? We want children to stay with their families if possible and we want families to take responsibility for their children. We do not want a situation in which the state simply assumes all the responsibility. There is a critical point at which we need to intervene. If we intervene too early, we interfere inappropriately, but if we intervene too late, the damage might well have been done, as Trish Godman rightly pointed out.

Christine Grahame talked about young carers and the effects on children who are made to assume responsibilities that are way beyond their years. The Executive published "It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright: Report of the Child Protection Audit and Review", which highlighted the impact of parental drug use on child protection work. The First Minister announced a five-point plan to deliver improvements to child protection services, including a three-year reform programme. We want to ensure that our approach is child focused rather than systems driven and we need to talk more to children themselves. Through our carer strategy, we support young carers and we have almost quadrupled the amount of money that we spend on young carers. I am sure that we could always do more. In the partnership agreement, we made a commitment to expand respite care.

In "A Framework for maternity services in Scotland", we made a commitment to improve practice in helping pregnant women who have drug and alcohol problems. We want to work on improving information management and sharing arrangements, to help to identify children who are at risk as a result of parental drug and alcohol misuse.

It is true that we have an idea of, but do not know exactly, the scale of the problem. We need to do much more to get behind the statistics, stop relying on anecdotal evidence and ascertain the scale of the problem so that we can target resources more accurately.

I mentioned two schools that have done excellent work. Schools can play a key role. As far back as 2000 we issued "Guidelines for the Management of Incidents of Drug Misuse in Schools", which made it clear that if a child is at risk as a result of parental drug use, child protection procedures should be followed. A working group is currently exploring how schools can help to build relationships with hard-to-reach parents, including drug misusers, because many parents who misuse drugs are suspicious of professionals.

We are spending more money than ever on early-years services. We have to begin early. We are providing facilities to offer pre-school services to three and four-year-olds. In communities in Glasgow and elsewhere, we have excellent integrated early-years services that address not only education but support for parents, health initiatives and so on. However, the tragedy is that some parents do not access those services. The worst problem is that those parents do not come because they do not want to be seen and do not want to engage. There is a hidden problem, because children are left at home during very important years of their development. Their development will be permanently impaired if we cannot reach out to them.

I assure the members who have participated in this excellent debate that we are spending more money than ever before. However, we have to think about how we spend that money. We are committed to doing even more but we have to identify the scale of the problem and we have to ask ourselves what we are achieving. We have to tell all the services involved that they cannot work in isolation. They need to co-operate and to integrate; they need to work across their boundaries. People have to stop being precious about what they do.

Trish Godman has left us with a series of questions that could not be answered easily tonight. She asked about sustainability, about focusing on the child, about grandparents, about the appropriateness and quantity of services, and—quite rightly—about the statistics. We have to use this occasion as a useful stage to allow us to move the debate forward. I assure members that we are committed to doing that. We will reflect on the "Hidden Harm" report and consider what needs to be done. However, as Kenny MacAskill suggested, we should not kid ourselves that this is easy, that money alone is enough, or that we can legislate the problem away. There is a big problem that we all have to address—across our party differences and across our community differences.

I hope that, after five years, we can come back to Trish Godman and say that, even though we might not have solved the problem for each and every child in a family with a drug misuser, we did make an effort and we did make progress. I hope that we will be able to show her examples of how we have changed the lives of people in our community for the better, because we will never be able to put a price on transforming the life of a child beyond all recognition through interventions.

I thank Trish Godman for stimulating this debate tonight. It has been a very good debate, but we all have much more to do.

Meeting closed at 17:43.