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Children of Drug Abusers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:05 pm on 16th September 2004.

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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.