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Children of Drug Abusers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:13 pm on 16th September 2004.

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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.