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Children of Drug Abusers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:01 pm on 16th September 2004.

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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.